Untangling John Hayes on wind power
- 31 Oct 2012, 13:20
- Carbon Brief Staff
Comments by Tory energy minister John Hayes have inspired
conflicting statements about the government's wind policy in the UK
media today. We untangle the mess.
Confusion reigns over the government's attitude to renewable
energy targets. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are today
lauding the "end of the windfarm", just as trade body RenewableUK
and the Financial Times have issued positive reports on the
Hayes praised the renewable industry at trade body
conference in Glasgow yesterday. But in
remarks the minister briefed to the Mail and Telegraph he implied
that the government will allow no new onshore windfarms to be
proposed, leading to front-page splashes in both papers. So what's
Speeches and front pages
Yesterday, Hayes said the government supported "renewable
energy of the right kind" in a
Guardian column. At the RenewableUK
conference later that evening, he said renewables need "
the right kind of framework" to give
But according to the
Guardian, this supportive tone didn't
reflect the speech Hayes originally wanted to give. Hayes's boss,
Energy Secretary Ed Davey, allegedly told Hayes to rewrite his
planned remarks, which were apparently less-than enthusiastic about
It appears the first draft of the speech provides the basis
for front page articles in the
Telegraph today. The Mail translated Hayes's
quotes as 'Minister signals end of the wind farm', while the
Daily Telegraph went for 'Death knell for
Hayes tells the Telegraph:
'We can no longer have wind turbines
imposed on communities. I can't single-handedly build a new
Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.'
Hayes says he has asked the Planning Minister, Nick Boles,
to look into the effect of wind farms on "house prices, and other
quality of life issues".
Enough wind already?
According to the Telegraph and the Mail, Hayes argues that
"even if a minority of [wind farms] in the [planning] system is
built" the UK will reach its 2020 renewable energy
The Mail says:
"The Government has set a target of
increasing the amount of power generated by onshore wind farms to
13 gigawatts (GW) by 2020."
In fact, there is no government target for the amount of
power to be generated by onshore wind - there's just the EU target
that says renewables must provide 15 per cent of energy generation
by 2020. To meet this, the government has projected that onshore
wind "could contribute up to around
13GW" by that date.
Figures from RenewableUK
show that around 5GW of onshore wind power is already in
operation, a further 2GW is under construction and around 4GW has
been consented by the planning process. Together, that's around
Roughly 7.5GW is currently being considered by the planning
process, and not all of these projects will necessarily get built.
If they did, there would be around 18.5GW of onshore wind in
So whatever the tone of his remarks, Hayes appears to be
right when he says that that even if a minority of wind power
currently in planning is built, this will provide the amount of
onshore wind the government is (loosely) aiming for.
UK onshore wind farms that are operational, under
construction or going through the planning system. Source: RenewableUK
Change in policy?
So does this mean a change in government policy? In fact,
putting aside the tone and the fact that they ended up on the front
page of the two newspapers that have been consistently hostile
towards wind power, there seems to be little of substance in
Conservativehome believes Hayes "probably
let his rhetoric run ahead of the situation", while The Department
of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says in a statement
this morning that "there has been no change
to government policy on renewable energy".
DECC is currently conducting a
review exploring how windfarm developers can
ensure communities benefit from windfarms. But, it says, it is not
looking into windfarms' effect on property values or landscape.
DECC's hastily-issued statement says that government is still
committed to onshore wind as "one of the cheapest
Familiar arguments against wind
The Mail piece also contains supportive words for Hayes from
Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who says:
"This is a huge step forward. These
awful turbines do nothing for the environment - they barely reduce
CO2- they force up energy billsand put more people into fuel
These are familiar arguments. Are they right?
Heaton-Harris's claim that wind power doesn't reduce carbon
dioxide emissions probably assumes that gas turbines providing
back-up to wind power will cancel out emissions savings. Academics
at Imperial College have quite convincingly
pulled this argument apart, saying that it's
based on illogical assumptions.
As to wind power forcing up energy bills - households
currently pay around £21 to fund the Renewables Obligation, which
provides direct government support for
renewables. Not all of this goes to support
wind power. The Committee on Climate Change estimates green
policies will raise energy bills by about
£110 by 2020. Of this, they estimate
£50 will be due to wind power.
. Over the past few years, renewables subsidies have been
overshadowed by the rising cost of gas, which is the main
bills have gone up.
Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of renewable
power. If building less onshore wind means building more offshore,
or more of other renewable technologies, this may itself push bills
Lastly, on fuel poverty - does it make sense to say one
particular component of an energy bill push people into fuel
poverty? When we
examined the question, about half of the £18
of the average energy bill that directly subsidies renewable power
went to wind - £9 per year (The total has since risen to £21).
Heaton-Harris suggests this extra £9 pushes 50,000 people into fuel
poverty each year. But bills are going up for a range of reasons,
with the most significant being
rising wholesale gas prices.
Hayes's remarks do not appear to signal a shift in
government policy. They probably don't even give a clear indication
of the prospects for onshore wind in the UK. But it's clear that
with different DECC ministers differing so strongly in tone and
emphasis, the political struggle in government over energy policy
continues behind the scenes.