How the wind subsidy train was blown away

How the wind subsidy train was blown away

by Murdo Fraser
article from Saturday 27, June, 2015

THERE WAS jubilation in rural Scotland last week with the announcement from the Conservative Government that subsidies for new onshore wind projects were to be scrapped, more or less with immediate effect. Communities across Scotland, who for years had felt under siege from wind power developers desperate to fill their boots with money taken from the pockets of the fuel poor, were celebrating politicians doing that most unusual of things: delivering on manifesto promises.

For it was, indeed, a Conservative manifesto pledge that all new subsidies for onshore wind projects would be ended, and this is exactly what the new Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, has delivered.

Now it goes without saying that not everyone was happy that the subsidy train was being blown away. There were the predictable squeals of protest from the wind power industry, which had gorged itself on bill-payers’ cash for so long. The SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the announcement as “wrong-headed, perverse and downright outrageous”. And the wind industry’s favourite politician, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, was on his feet in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, denouncing the move as “irrational” and “utter folly”.

This was a curious change in tone for Fergus Ewing. Back in 2007, when he was in opposition, he campaigned hard against wind farms in his own Inverness constituency. At that time he told the Badenoch & Strathspey Herald that: “The SNP believes that many other forms of renewable energy are the future – not unconstrained wind farms”.

As I pointed out to Mr Ewing in the Scottish Parliament Chamber on Tuesday, communities across Scotland would draw a contrast between a Conservative Party which in opposition promised to act against the overdevelopment of onshore wind power, and in government delivered on its promises – and an SNP Energy Minister who in opposition said one thing, but in government did precisely the opposite.

Both the Minister and the wind industry complained that these changes had been sprung upon them without prior notice. Sadly for them, this view simply does not fit with the facts. 

On the 24th April 2014, more than a year ago, the then Energy Minister Michael Fallon stated clearly that any onshore wind project which had not been granted planning permission before the election would not get any subsidy. In fact, by moving this date back to the 18th June 2015, Amber Rudd was actually being more generous to the industry than was originally being proposed.

There have been the predictable dire warnings of a blow to the Scottish economy of up to £3 billion of investment lost, and 5,000 jobs at risk. But many involved in the wind industry would themselves concede that they expected wind power to be cost competitive without subsidy as soon as 2020, and in any event many onshore developers have already started moving investment offshore.

Of course we have heard similar warnings before. When the previous coalition Government cut the subsidies for Solar PV installations, we were warned by the SNP that this would devastate the industry, with business closures and job losses. Today, the Solar PV sector is stronger than it has ever been, as I can testify from my constituency mailbag. 

Those who have been caught once crying wolf cannot be expected to be taken seriously the second time around.

Then we have had the claim that bills to consumers will go up, by between £2 and £3 billion. Yet this claim is categorically refuted by Amber Rudd. It is hard to see the argument why reducing the subsidy paid by electricity consumers means that they will end up paying more.

Finally, the argument is made that this will mean that Scotland and the UK will miss our climate change targets. Yet, as the Scottish Conservatives revealed last week, with 7.1GW of onshore wind already operating in Scotland, 0.5GW under construction, and an additional 8.2 GW already having been given planning consent, the SNP’s target of achieving 100% equivalent of electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2020 has effectively already been met.

What all this points to, once again, is a need for a properly balanced energy policy, and for the SNP government to end its fixation with onshore wind. DECC’s announcement is hopefully the first step towards achieving this.

We continue to have a security of supply issue in Scotland, with Longannet, Torness and Hunterston all due to close in the next eight years, meaning we will lose 55% of our electricity generating capacity, with nothing in the pipeline to replace it.

The SNP need to urgently rethink their ideological opposition to new nuclear, when that is the most cost-effective way of providing low-carbon base load, and on a “whole system cost” basis, cheaper than intermittent wind with the required back up or storage.

There will of course be an ongoing need for unsubsidised onshore wind, but in a more managed fashion than we have seen up until now. And we will need to continue to invest in other renewable technologies: hydro, solar, biomass, offshore wind, wave and tidal. A proper mix needs to be the foundation of our energy supply.

Amber Rudd has set us on the right track. Ironically, I suspect that the Fergus Ewing of 2007 would be in full agreement with her direction of travel.


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