Revealed: Britain's £1billion ban on cheap onshore wind energy technology

A sheep and lamb stand in front of Little Cheyne Court wind farm in Essex.
A sheep and lamb stand in front of Little Cheyne Court wind farm in Essex.
A new report by the ECIU highlights the cost of the 'perverse' onshore wind 'ban' and examines the knock-on impacts for consumers and the climate. BRENDAN MONTAGUE reports
Cumulatively, continuing the onshore wind ban could cost £1bn over 4-5 years relative to other technologies.

The government's effective ban on onshore windfarms is preventing the introduction of the cleanest, cheapest potential electricity generation resulting in expensive energy bills for businesses and families, a new report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has found. 

Electricity from new onshore wind farms is about £30 million per year less for every gigawatt (GW) than for new offshore wind turbines - and £100 million less than from new nuclear or biomass plant, according to the Blown Away study.

The ban on onshore wind farms - introduced by David Cameron's Conservative government and continued under Theresa May - could cost the country £1 billion during the next four to five years when compared to alternative technologies.

Lowest energy costs 

The report has been produced in the wake of the government's Clean Growth Strategy, which found that new low-carbon policies are needed to meet legally-binding climate change targets. It has been released ahead of the publication of the government's own review of energy costs set up to find the "lowest energy costs in Europe".

Richard Black, director of the ECIU, said: "The effective ban on the cheapest form of new power generation looks increasingly perverse.

"For a Government committed to making energy cheaper, this risks not only locking people into higher bills, but also runs contrary to its aim of having the lowest energy costs in Europe.

A healthy mix

"These blustery isles have no shortage of wind and while other European nations are going large on onshore wind the UK is starting to fall behind by not making the most of our natural resource."

He added: "David Cameron promised no new subsidies for onshore wind. But it now doesn't need a subsidy - research indicates fixed-price contracts would more than pay for themselves.

"So, given that the government also knows it needs new low-carbon policies the question is, why not enable onshore wind where local people want it and where it won't harm wildlife, while continuing to support a healthy mix of other low-carbon energy generation?"

Cumulatively, continuing the onshore wind ban could cost £1bn over 4-5 years relative to other technologies.

A fracking site

New onshore wind could be built at prices below £50/MWh (per megawatt hour), cheaper than the forecast price for new gas-fired capacity (£66/MWh), according to analysis conducted before the recent round of offshore wind auctions, which resulted in record-breaking low prices.

This means new onshore wind would be 'subsidy free' even when additional costs relating to intermittent generation are included.
Dr Jonathan Marshall, ECIU energy analyst, said: "Changing tack on onshore wind would be widely supported.

People are overwhelmingly in favour of renewable forms of energy, and onshore wind is one of the most popular forms of generation; surveys show that people are far keener on living next to an onshore wind farm than a fracking site or a small nuclear reactor.

Global centres

"The opportunity of repeating the British success story on offshore wind should also be a powerful motivator, and there would be added benefits in diversifying the UK's energy mix. A policy rethink on onshore wind looks increasingly overdue."

The report also finds that Britain is set to fall to bottom place amongst comparable EU nations in terms of wind farm efficiency without investment in new technology.

The ECIU also argues that without a domestic market, the UK risks losing its place as one of the global centres for onshore wind energy, in manufacturing and installation, and in associated financial and legal services.

Investment in new onshore wind today would also allow the UK to benefit from developments in technology; currently, the UK fleet is one of the least efficient, and therefore least economically competitive, amongst rival EU nations.

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Brendan Montague is Editor of The Ecologist.


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