The UK government has set ambitious targets to double the amount of wind energy it produces by the end of the decade. By 2030 every home in the UK could be powered by turbines. The policy is aimed to cut carbon emissions, and reduce the dependence on foreign energy.
But many experts believe the new energy strategy is flawed, as cheaper onshore wind farms are not part of the plan – which relies instead on offshore developments. Because some consider wind turbines an eyesore, getting permission to build them in England is extremely difficult.
On a small patch of grassland just outside Bristol in South West England, a blue metal pipe sticks up out of the ground. It marks the beginning of the end of a process that has taken years of work. A new turbine will be built here in the summer.
It’s the brainchild of local community groups and will benefit many living nearby.
Andrew Garrad is one of those involved. A pioneer of the wind energy industry, he’s also a former President of the European Wind Energy Association. Garrad is disappointed with the government’s resistance to onshore turbines, and told CGTN “We’ve had quite a big struggle to get here.”
“It’s acknowledged, particularly in a windy place like the UK, that onshore wind is the cheapest way of producing new kilowatts, so why on earth would you discourage it? And of course it’s zero carbon,” argued Garrad.
Much of the money the turbine generates by selling energy to the national grid, will help pay the bills of those in the nearby Lawrence Weston area of Bristol. Many there are struggling with the rising cost of household fuel bills.
The project has succeeded with no financial help from the UK government, relying instead on a mix of loans and local council funding.
David Tudgey is the Development Manager for Ambition Community Energy. He told CGTN that community projects could be the way forward.
“It’s about being imaginative about how we support communities to take control of their destinies,” said Tudgey. “I think the more we empower communities and empower people through knowledge, science and resources, they will deliver these projects. And we need to do this now, it’s a climate emergency and also, it’s a fuel poverty emergency right now.”
The green energy company Ecotricity knows all about the challenges of building turbines. It built its first one back in 1996, but since then government policy has shifted to make things much harder. The presumption is now against granting planning permission for turbines.
Dale Vince is the company founder and told CGTN “It’s the cheapest, cleanest, fastest form of energy available to us.” Vince, who also runs Forest Green Rovers with the aim of being the greenest football club in the world, believes solar energy has similar advantages to onshore wind power but is being prioritized by the government.
“Solar is being allowed, onshore wind is not,” explained Vince. “It’s not that funding is being refused because it doesn’t need funding. That’s the amazing thing about it, it’s cost neutral. It’s being blocked through the planning system.”
The new UK energy strategy says there will be no “wholesale changes to current planning regulations” but there will be consultation on allowing more community turbines like the one in Bristol. For now, when it comes to wind energy in the UK – the future is offshore, despite the added challenges, and cost, that this brings.