Your independent energy adviser
0800 051 5770

Cameron takes a swipe at renewable energy

DECC’s figures for H1 2014 have revealed that renewable energy in Scotland has overtaken nuclear power as the largest source of electricity North of the border but the rapid growth the industry has achieved is now in doubt after the depth of opposition from the coalition government has become clear.

First the good news, Scottish renewables contributed 10.3 TWH in the first six months of 2014, fully 32% more power than nuclear power. Over the same period, Scottish nuclear power generated 7.8 TWH with gas & coal fired power stations lagging behind at 5.6 TWH and 1.4 TWH respectively.

Chief Executive of Scottish Power, Niall Stuart, welcomed the news saying:

“The renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time, but there is still plenty of potential for further growth.

“Offshore wind and marine energy are still in the early stages of development but could make a big contribution to our future energy needs if they get the right support from government. That support includes the delivery of grid connections to the islands, home to the UK’s very best wind, wave and tidal sites.”

That good news however has been tempered by the struggles that new renewable projects face in getting built.

The Communities and Local Government Committee (CLGC) has claimed that the current planning process for renewable energy projects needs to be quicker or they risk deterring investors.

The CLGC explained:

“Submitting evidence to the committee, Renewable UK stated that the average time between recovery of a planning application and a decision being made was seven months ….. [and they] saw evidence that the secretary of state was more likely to refuse renewal energy applications than those for other types of development” but that there was no “convincing evidence” these decisions had been made “contrary to the NPPF”.

The CLGC added that it was essential for the future of renewable energy for the government to add “more resources to the team supporting the secretary of state in planning decisions”.

It is that latter element that has caused most controversy amid the coalition’s well-known opposition to onshore wind energy.

The CLGC highlighted that the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had approved just 28.6% of renewable energy projects in 2013.

Commenting on the politicisation of the process, the CBI said that the behaviour is:

“Having a serious impact on investor confidence in the renewable energy sector and indicates a lack of trust by government in the planning profession to interpret policy and guidance appropriately”.

Whilst Renewable UK’s Deputy Chief Executive, Maf Smith, berated the government saying:

“A cross-party committee of MPs has acknowledged the damage caused by the Secretary of State’s continued interventions in wind projects.

“What the CLGC doesn’t call out though is the blatant political motivation for Mr Pickles’ interference.

“He needs to be reined in to stop stifling new developments; he’s sacrificing energy security, new jobs and much-needed local investment in the most cost-effective form of renewable energy that we have”.

That however seems a forlorn hope with David Cameron’s recent claim that the public was “fed up’ with onshore wind farms saying:

“Let’s get rid of the subsidy, put them into the planning system. If they can make their case, they will make their case. I suspect they won’t and we’ll have a reasonable amount of onshore wind, we’ll have safer electricity supplies as a result but enough is enough and I’m very clear about that.”

Sounding increasingly like Owen Paterson, Cameron added:

“My objection to the green groups is that they don’t want to hear any of these arguments, because they can’t bear any new carbon-based energy source coming on stream”.

Warming to the theme Cameron said:

“I think there are some myths we need to get over – the myth that fracking would be a disaster for the environment, the myth that GM technology means we are all going to be eating fish-flavoured tomatoes, the myth that nuclear power is inherently unstable and we shouldn’t pursue it.

“These are myths that we need to confront if we are going to be a successful science-based country in the future.

“We are not subsidising fracking with a guaranteed pence-per-kilowatt hour. What we are saying is, as we stand today there are no unconventional gas wells in Britain and yet the Bowland shale, some of the other shale reserves, have the potential to provide gas for this country maybe for as long as 30 years.

“It’s a nascent industry. We are not giving it a subsidy, we are just saying effectively that there should be a tax regime on this industry that encourages it to get going and, crucially, encourages it to get going and to reward local communities.

“This industry is going to have to make a profit in order to succeed, but the way you tax a new industry is different to the way you tax an existing industry.”

Whilst the green lobby will reel from such sentiments it is interesting to see green issues effectively being dismissed by the ruling party ahead of a general election. Given the import support for such policies has been in recent manifestos it is fascinating to see Cameron take such a polarised attitude. Winning the argument over the impact of extra-market costs on the price of energy may be a sensible first step if Cameron can clearly state that case. Failure to do so however will mean the government appears out of touch with public opinion ahead of what promises to be the tightest election in recent memory.


The irony of Ed Miliband winning the 2015 election over energy policy, an area he has been a consistent failure in, would be the highest of all.