If George Osborne reduces subsidies for onshore wind, what will it mean for 2020 renewable energy targets?
- 08 Jun 2012, 15:37
- Robin Webster
Is the government still committed to its 2020 renewables target?
Under EU law, the UK has promised to ramp up energy production from
renewables to 15% by 2020 -
in 2010 the figure was 3.3%.
But last weekend the
front page of the Observer reported that George Osborne and the
Treasury are lobbying for a
25% cut in subsidies for onshore wind.
What effect might this have? A
study paid for by the Scottish renewables industry suggests
that a 25% cut in subsidies could lead to 25% cut in the number of
onshore wind projects, with many of those located in Scotland.
Meanwhile, comments by industry experts appear to indicate that
the impact could be even more significant as investor confidence is
Osborne's position is widely seen as a supportive response to a
back-bench Tory rebellion against wind farms. (Many of those
MPs oppose wind farm development because of what they believe will
be the impact on the landscape of their constituency.) Predictably,
parts of the media were pleased, with the Telegraph
calling the proposal "welcome and necessary" and the Mail
Is this the end of wind farms?"
If enacted, it seems likely that the move would make it more
difficult for the UK to meet its EU renewables target. This is
because onshore wind is a key plank of government plans to ramp up
renewables - as this chart from DECC's 2009
Renewable Energy Strategy shows (onshore wind is light
A study commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate
Change (DECC) from the
consultancy Arup in 2011 (which fed into DECC's more recent
Renewable Energy Roadmap) laid out some different scenarios for
the potential future build of onshore wind, illustrated in this
Based on this the government concluded that
"The central range for deployment
indicates that onshore wind could contribute up to around 13 GW by
It's useful to point out however that the three scenarios in the
Arup study are based on maximum build rates. As DECC
"....deployment in each technology would
be expected to be correspondingly lower than them, except where RO
support is set high enough to incentivise even the most expensive
potential renewable projects in a given technology."
In other words, the upper end of the 'central' scenario in the
Arup study - which is broadly consistent with the rollout of
onshore wind projected in the 2009 Renewable Energy Strategy - is
based on modelling which doesn't include any financial constraints.
Once some projects start being excluded on the grounds of
affordability (or for any other reason), that will makes it more
difficult to hit the renewable energy target.
Cutting the Renewables Obligation
Renewables Obligation (RO) is the (notoriously complicated) way
the government encourages large scale renewable power. It is due to
be replaced by a new support measure known as Contracts for
Difference (CfD) (equally complicated, although in a different way)
by 2017 - but before that happens, new levels for the RO need
to be set for the 2013-17 period.
Back in October 2011, DECC launched a
consultation on the proposed changes to the RO. In it they
suggested that the support level for onshore wind be cut by 10% in
order to reduce costs. Their modelling indicated that this would
reduce build of onshore wind by 0.35-0.43GW.
This isn't a vast amount and at the time, the renewables
industry appeared relatively sanguine about what was perceived as a
relatively light cut - the
Renewable Energy Association, for example, responded that
"Onshore wind developers should be able to live with this".
The mooted 25% cut is of course somewhat larger. There isn't
much research into what effect it might have. There does however
seem to be
a lone study from 2011, produced for ScottishPower and ScottishPower
Renewables by the consultancy Oxera (so caveat emptor).
The report models which proposed onshore wind projects would
become uneconomic under a 10% and (handily) a 25% cut to the RO
It suggests that a 25% cut in the RO support measures would lead
to a proportionate 25% reduction in the rollout of onshore
Perhaps of interest to those MPs who oppose expansion of wind
farms in their constituency, Oxera predicts that nearly three
quarters (72%) of the 8.6TWh of wind projects made uneconomic by
the decrease in support would be in Scotland.
Of course, these conclusions come from a report paid for by
Scottish companies which are investing heavily in wind power, and
there isn't a lot else out there, so bear that in mind.
Less onshore wind might also push up costs. In comments made
over the weekend,
Tory MP Tim Yeo pointed out that offshore wind is a more
expensive option than onshore turbines. The Oxera report calculates
that meeting the 2020 renewables target by making up a shortfall
from onshore wind with offshore wind could increase costs to the
taxpayer by around £219m-£256m per year by 2020. (This calculation
assumes the support levels created by the 25% cut to the RO remain
the same up to 2020).
Impact on investor confidence
RenewableUK believe that the effects of the cut would be more
severe than predicted by the Oxera study, telling us that "investor
confidence would be shaken by a 25% cut".
A spokesperson from Bloomberg New Energy
Finance seemed to agree that there could be wider implications.
They told us
"The biggest point is the uncertainty
and the bad impression that is created if the government proposes
one level for the RO and some months later it unravels."
They added that the uncertainty created so far has "already
affected investor confidence" and may be impacting on onshore wind
"Some investors have agreed plans made
on the basis of 0.9 ROCs. If that's not the case those decisions
would not have been made. The priority is that the government needs
to clarify the situation as soon as possible".
Meanwhile, in a comment sent to us, DECC said
"It is vital that our support for
renewable electricity both encourages investment and represents
value for money for consumers. The Government will publish support
levels for renewable electricity technologies for the period 2013
to 2017 shortly."
...which isn't massively informative.
Of course, there's a political wrangle going on behind the
scenes, that is, if you believe the
Observer which suggested that there is a massive barney between
DECC and the Treasury, with the Treasury "crawling all over" the
proposed rates and "demanding" a 25% cut.
Maybe that explains DECC's somewhat vague comment. So, the
normal cut and thrust of politics - meanwhile, the renewables
target looms just eight years away...