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REF Blog

Separation Distances between Wind Farms and Dwellings

The Sunday Times has reported that an increasing number of local authorities are setting or considering minimum acceptable separation distances between dwellings and wind turbines in their Local Development Plans. These are reported to include Milton Keynes, Stratford on Avon, Cherwell, Staffordshire, South Cambridgeshire, Rutland, Northumberland, South Kesteven, Lincolshire County Council, and Wiltshire Council.

Typical of these is Wiltshire Council, which is consulting on a buffer zone around dwellings that increases with proposed turbine height. REF responded to that consultation following a request by a local resident, and taking noise impacts into account, concluded that the separation distances proposed represent a reasonable compromise between protecting the amenity of Wiltshire residents while enabling development of appropriately-scaled renewable energy projects.

Given that local planners are expected to enhance or, at least, preserve the amenity enjoyed by local residents it makes sense to ensure the impacts of wind farms are not excessive.

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How Much More Onshore Wind Power will be Consented and Built in the United Kingdom?

Following remarks made by the Minister of State for Energy, John Hayes, MP, there is some confusion about the future for onshore wind power in the United Kingdom. Speaking on Channel 4 news Mr Hayes remarked:

"With respect of what is built, with what is consented and with a small proportion of what is in the planning system, we will have reached our ambition in respect of the renewables’ target – end of story.

The prime minister in the House of Commons said that when we’ve reached our targets then he invited all parties to think about where we went next. I endorse his view entirely.

In respect of the targets that we have for renewables when we take into account, what’s built, what’s consented, what’s in planning system now – it will certainly have [been] achieved, it will be job done."

Quoted in Christopher Hope, ‘Job done on windfarms, says Hayes’, Daily Telegraph (13.11.12).

It is straightforward to put these remarks into concrete terms. We know that the government’s own central scenario for onshore wind has been for “up to around” 13 GWs of capacity (DECC, Renewable Energy Roadmap 2011). However, in recent months DECC has started to say “up to 13 GWs” a reflection of a growing concern that larger capacities of onshore wind not possible due to growing public resistance to the turbines themselves and also to the substantial grid infrastructure needed to support them. Thus, we infer that when Mr Hayes refers to “our targets” he is thinking of 13 GWs.

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CarbonBrief and the Costs of Scottish Wind Power

Following a report in the Sunday Times in Scotland on 4 November 2012 entitled “SNP fad for wind 'will cost us £400'”, CarbonBrief  approached us because they were apparently surprised that the costs of subsidising Scottish wind could reach nearly £1 billion per year by 2020. We provided the data which underpinned the calculation. However, this was only selectively reproduced on the CarbonBrief blog.

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Coal to Biomass and Back Again?

Ofgem today announced the results of its survey of the future electricity supply "capacity margin", which is the quantity of available generation over and above the level of expected peak demand (Electricity Capacity Assessment Report. In addition, see Ofgem's press release.)

Although striking, the results only confirmed what many have long suspected (not least ourselves in 2008: see Electricity Prices in the United Kingdom, written with Hugh Sharman). Namely, that in some plausible circumstances the margin in 2015/16, when the effects of the European Union Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), really bite, falls to very low levels. As Ofgem's own press release puts it: "Margins are projected to fall from 14 per cent in 2012/13 to 4 per cent in 2015/16"

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Two renewable records broken on 14 September 2012

On Friday 14 September 2012 two interesting renewable records were broken.

Firstly, it was a record day for share of renewable energy in Britain's overall electricity generation with 13.6% of the total generation managed by National Grid in the day coming from a mix of hydro (1.4%), wind (10.5%) and dedicated biomass (1.7%).

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DECC on the Verge of Breaching Treasury Spending Limits

Over the last few days the press has been reporting general accounts of a leaked letter from the Chancellor, George Osborne, to Ed Davey, Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, suggesting that the Treasury has attempted to sabotage the green revolution by seeking dramatic reductions in subsidies.

The text of the letter has now been made available in full on the Guardian website: "George Osborne Letter from to Ed Davey on Gas and Windpower".

The contents are, however, not quite what previous reports suggested. Far from being inflexible and obstructive, the Chancellor appears to be moderate and conciliatory, though his letter is indeed explicitly committed to a governing principle:

"We need to set out an approach which puts the cost to consumers at its heart."

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Generation Investment Patterns in the UK

Energy UK (the new trade body for the electricity industry, amalgamating the Association of Electricity Producers, the Energy Retail Association, and the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy) has just released a very brief preview of a forthcoming Ernst & Young study of investment patterns in the UK energy sector: Powering the UK

Naturally, Energy UK feel obliged to offer an upbeat interpretation, but even a superficial reading shows that the news is in fact mixed.

Ernst & Young estimate that over the next fifteen years the UK needs to invest around £250 billion on capital plant (power stations, grid lines, compressors, gas pipelines, etc.) for the electricity and gas sectors. That's £16 billion a year. However, Ernst & Young's chart shows that in 2011 the industry invested only around £11 billion a year, with about £8 billion of that being spent on power stations and about £3 billion on grid and pipelines for the transmission and distribution.

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REUK Legal Threat to Protect Subsidies is Poor PR

The Guardian last week reported that the industry lobbyist RenewablesUK (REUK) is threatening to use the courts to prevent any substantial cut in subsidies to wind power.

Setting aside technical doubts as to whether this could succeed, it is remarkable that the industry should even consider such a defensive action, and still more striking that they are willing to use that possibility as a weapon in public debate.

Consider the facts of the matter. Subsidies to renewable electricity generators are drawn from consumers bills (not from taxpayers), so the impact is regressive, in other words it bears disproportionately on low income households, some of whom won't be paying tax at all.

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Excess Subsidy for High Wind Sites

Summary: In order to meet ambitious and arbitrary renewable energy targets government has to over-subsidise high wind sites by a factor of four in order ensure that low wind sites are profitable. This isn't sustainable.

Roger Harrabin's story for the BBC news website yesterday quoted an energy consultant, Nigel Cornwall, as saying that "developers received the same subsidy for a very windy site as for a less windy site." What Mr Cornwall meant is that they receive the same subsidy per unit generated (roughly a 100% top-up over and above the wholesale market price, about £50/MWh).

Mr Cornwall is then quoted as saying: "That means the single band of support is very generous for some developers but not enough for others."

That is a very interesting remark, and touches on an important truth. However, there's a bit more to be said on this subject.

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REF's evidence on Economics of Wind Power

On the 12th of June the House of Commons Energy & Climate Change Committee launched an inquiry into the economics of wind power.

We worked with Colin Gibson, one of our advisors, and a leading expert on system costs, to draft our evidence, which we are publishing today (REF Comments on the Economics of Wind Power

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