No more wind farms?

The Conservatives have announced that if they win the election they will end subsidies for new onshore wind farms and give local authorities greater powers to reject them. The policy is unpopular with most environmentalists (‘this is dog whistle politics, which is about tribal identity not policy integrity’, tweeted Matthew Spencer, Director of Green Alliance) but many CPRE branches will welcome it.


CPRE recognises ‘that onshore wind can contribute to meeting the UK’s requirements from renewable sources’. Some CPRE branches have opposed nearly all proposed wind farms in their area, but others have courted unpopularity by supporting schemes where they perceived that their impact on the landscape was outweighed by the contribution they would make to wider environmental goals. Onshore wind has been a very contentious issue within CPRE, and we have never been as opposed to it as many ultras outside the organisation would like.


But scepticism within CPRE has grown, mirroring the wider disenchantment with onshore wind (particularly among country people) that has led to this new Conservative Party policy. Many factors come into play, including some myths (for instance that onshore wind produces no energy worth having, and that it is relatively expensive) and, perhaps, the diminishing salience of climate change as a political issue (even as the evidence of its seriousness grows).


But public acceptance of onshore wind has also been damaged by the way the technology has been deployed. The planning system has not done its job of guiding development to the right places, as evidenced in CPRE’s 2012 report, Generating light on landscape impacts. The capacity of the landscape to absorb wind turbines has been exceeded in some parts of the country, and many communities – from unwindy Northamptonshire to the ‘special landscapes’ of Devon, Northumberland or the Yorkshire Wolds – have felt besieged by big developers. The Government’s attempts in the last year to strike a better balance between protecting the landscape and providing low-carbon power have had an uncertain effect and, arguably, come too late.


We might be having a far healthier debate now, not only on wind, but on the mix of renewable technologies we need, if the promotion of onshore wind had been genuinely community-led or owned. People are angry about the big energy companies and the huge subsidies trousered by some very rich landowners. (I am amazed by the Bolshevik rhetoric of some fairly right-wing CPRE members when they get on to this topic.)  The Government’s first Community Energy Strategy says that by next year it should be the norm for communities to be offered some level of ownership of new onshore renewables, but this is too little too late in areas where people are so fed up with turbines that they would not contemplate another one regardless who owned it.


Public confidence in renewables has been damaged by the way we have funded and planned for onshore wind, and if the lessons are not learnt we will hamper our ability to deliver the low carbon energy that will help us tackle climate change.


It is encouraging that the Conservatives are promising to divert money to other renewables, rather than simply ditching the UK’s commitments. Michael Fallon, the Energy Minister, says: ‘We remain committed to cutting our carbon emissions. And renewable energy, including onshore wind, has a key role in our future energy supply.’ But it would be even more encouraging if the Government got serious about conserving energy and reducing demand.


It is hard, for instance, to reconcile the biggest road-building programme for fifty years with the commitment to cut carbon emissions. The country’s building stock continues to be among the least energy efficient in Europe; the Government has watered down energy efficiency targets for both new and existing homes; and planners are given little encouragement to ensure sustainable housing densities and less car use. The question of how we produce our energy is obviously important, but it would be good to see more attention, including from environmentalists, on how we can use less in the first place.







3 Responses to “No more wind farms?”

  1. 1 Trudi Hughes April 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    ….have the scales fallen from CPREs eyes at last ? The organisation would do well to focus on what it’s really valued for / good planning advice etc,. to protect our countryside . That’s why I joined, and many others who live in the countryside. It should not be perceived to act as an uncritical advocate of all aspects of the ‘green’ agends.

    • 2 Alice Crampin April 26, 2014 at 7:05 am

      An excellent piece by Shaun and in line with what many in CPRE have always thought. People should check their own eyes —-

  2. 3 Trudi April 26, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    I sincerely hope you’re right about the changing direction of travel. I shall be watching carefully. Signed: a person who lives in the countryside and understands its ways……. And yes, I am concerned about protecting the environment, but that doesn’t mean always accepting as gospel all that DECC and some within CPRE and similar organisations say….

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