The roll-out of wind turbines across the UK since the Climate Change Act 2008 has been relentlessly driven at a political level. The scale of subsidies for wind turbines is such that it is very attractive for businesses and landowners to push proposals for them, even though they may not be in the best practical locations.
Many people living near to such proposals are naturally concerned that their hitherto unspoiled local environment may now be blighted by unsightly wind turbines, visual flicker, noise, and the presence of new pylons to connect to the grid. Not to mention the possibility of the loss of property value, which can be as high as 20%.
In 2008 a Valuation Tribunal ruled that a wind farm 930m from a home near Spalding had reduced the value of the house and that it should be changed from band B to A. The tribunal commented that “Case law and experience elsewhere had shown that dwellings which were located in close proximity to wind farms had seen their property prices drop by around 20%”
The map to the right shows the extent of the spread of proposals. It is taken from renewables-map.co.uk, an interactive map of renewable and alternative energy projects in the UK.
In my county of Suffolk, opposition to wind and solar farms as been widespread. At the same time, the number and scale of the applications to install wind and solar in Suffolk has been increasing. In response campaign websites such as CATT, in Clare, have been springing up.
There have also been campaigns conducted in the local press and media, sometimes with well known personalities. The Just Say No campaign, for example, has been widely featured in the local press, as has Stop Ipswich Turbines (SIT) – an action group formed by local residents in July 2012 to inform residents of Belstead, Wherstead, Pinewood, Thorington Park and Stoke Park of the plans by Partnership for Renewables to build a 130 metre wind turbine at Pannington Farm, just to the south of Ipswich.
Meanwhile, in June 2011, on a site at Kessingland, Suffolk, an area of outstanding natural beauty with water meadows, two 125 metre wind turbines were erected which dominate the landscape. The local campaign listed concerns over a number of issues including sleep and noise disturbance, shadow flicker, visual impact, environmental impact, devaluation of property and loss of rental income, and the effect on animals and livestock.
Yet the roots of this problem are political, and stem mainly from the Climate Change Act 2008, which specified a misguided preference for expensive and intermittent renewable power sources over reliable and cheap conventional power. However, political interest also goes back further than that, with many in the political arena having strong associations with ‘green’ energy over decades.
The local MP in South Suffolk is Conservative Tim Yeo. He is an avid supporter of renewables and until recently he was chairman of the cross-party Energy and Climate Change Commons Select Committee. He was suspended from the committee over allegations of conflict of interest with his association with the renewables industry who could be strongly affected by the deliberations of the committee. Tim Yeo is also president of the industry based Renewable Energy Association. He is also in receipt of consultancy fees from a number of renewables based organisations .
The Labour Energy Secretary who championed the Climage Change Act was Ed Miliband, and he is unlikely to admit that the Act was a mistake, nor that the large increases in energy costs as a result of the Act are down to his policies. Green tax on electricity currently amounts to 11%; by 2020 this will have risen to 33%, with 41% in green tax by 2030, according to DECC.
The Liberal Democrats with first Chris Huhne, then Ed Davey as Energy Secretary, have neither shown any degree of technical understanding of the issues, nor even any concern that their energy policies may be causing distress and financial disadvantage.
Whilst the forces acting for wind turbines might seem formidable and entrenched, some local Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat cohorts see wind turbines as despoilers of the landscape, and although nominally following the party line, are strongly opposed to them. This translates into a sizeable proportion of the electorate with similar views, and who may be prepared to set aside their normal voting preferences to defend their locality.
The only party publicly attacking the deficiencies of the Act, and dedicated to reducing the costs of energy, is UKIP. The task that UKIP faces is to ensure that it is represented at a local level by association with the individual campaigns, but to be careful that it does not attempt to turn them into an overtly one-party campaign. At a national level, we have Roger Helmer as an active spokesman, and material available which presents a practical view of UK energy, very much different from the near identical EU-backed statements which emanate from the LibLabCon triumvirate.
The recent announcement that nuclear power is back in favour, and promises of a reduction in green tax may offer some hope that the relentless push for wind and solar farms will be at least abated. The government has disclosed that the new reactors at Hinkley B in Somerset alone will produce the same amount of energy as 6,000 wind turbines built on 250,000 acres of land.
However, the pressure from UKIP should not be reduced. There are many practical benefits to be had for the UK in achieving a sensible energy mix. There are also considerable political benefits to UKIP for being the only party with the vision to send energy costs in a downward direction. We must keep it so.