Is an “Irrational Phobia” Hampering the UK Onshore Wind Industry?

The main ruling U.K. Conservative Party has an “irrational phobia” of onshore wind power and is hampering development of a technology that’s crucial to meeting Britain’s carbon targets, Business Secretary Vince Cable said.

The industry has made progress in establishing a domestic supply chain that now includes a wind turbine plant in Hull planned by Siemens AG, said Cable, a member of the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. That progress is being slowed by Conservative opposition to wind, he said.

“We have a problem and it’s a political problem: For reasons I don’t fully understand, our coalition partners have a pathological aversion to onshore wind,” Cable said late yesterday at a meeting on the sidelines of the Liberal Democrat party convention in Glasgow, Scotland. “It is making this hard. Lying behind it there is some really irrational phobia.”

With the U.K.’s traditional third party languishing fourth in the polls before national elections in May next year, the Liberal Democrats are striving to emphasize their differences to Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives after more than four years of joint government. Energy Secretary Ed Davey, also a Liberal, told the BBC today that his party pledged to phase out coal-fired power stations within a decade.

“If we’re part of the next government, we’re going to ban electricity generation from coal by 2025,” Davey told Radio 4’s “Today” program. That’s “the most ambitious policy to protect our climate because coal is the climate destroyer.”

Slowing Wind

Davey has pushed for the expansion of renewables in government, fighting to preserve wind subsidies in the face of demands for bigger cuts by the Conservatives. An anti-wind junior minister in his department, John Hayes, was in the post for less than year after they clashed over the technology.

That hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from slowing down the installation of onshore wind farms. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, a Tory, has intervened in 50 wind-farm applications since June 2013, sidelining projects that would have added 520 megawatts of wind turbines, the RenewableUK industry group said on Sept. 24.

Cable said it’s not just Conservative lawmakers who oppose onshore wind, citing “irrational” opposition to wind farms on aesthetic grounds by people in parts of Yorkshire, northern England, where the skyline is already dominated by electricity pylons connected to coal-fired power stations.

Even so, about 70 percent of U.K. voters support the technology, according to Gordon MacDougall, U.K. managing director at Renewable Energy Systems Ltd., a wind-farm developer. He said with continued support, onshore wind could become cost-competitive with new gas plants within three or four years.

Airport Expansion

Davey also said he favors changing his party’s current opposition to airport expansion in southeast England to allow for a new runway to be built at Gatwick, south of London, so long as criteria are met on air quality, noise pollution and traffic congestion. He still opposes expansion at Heathrow, he said.

The environmental criteria “clearly can’t be met at Heathrow, that’s obvious to everybody,” Davey said. “If they can be met elsewhere, we’re not against flying, we’re not against people using their cars, we’re not against people enjoying life and the economy growing — we just want to do that in a low-carbon way.”

Even so, the conference voted today to maintain the current policy, rejecting changes that would have allowed expansion away from Heathrow.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock

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