The Prime Minister told the House of Commons earlier this week that there was no change to Government policy on renewable energy.
This followed comments by Energy Minister David Hayes strongly suggesting that Britain had enough onshore wind turbines. Either this was a signal for a change of policy on the much-criticised turbines, which David Cameron publicly denied, or it was a moment that would not have been out of place in an episode of The Thick Of It.
However, the Government’s energy Bill is expected this month, which should clarify the position with regard to windfarms and the prospect of a new generation of nuclear power stations, two of which are to be built by the Japanese engineering company Hitachi.
T&A environment columnist Keith Thomson is awaiting the bill with trepidation because the energy situation, he says, is in a state of turmoil at the moment.
He said: “The key factor must be the reduction in CO2 emissions, and that means prioritising the right technologies, and factoring in the speed at which they can be introduced. Wind power can be installed and be linked to the grid very quickly, as long as it’s onshore.
“Political opposition is not based on energy needs, CO2 or European or American experience and is ideological as indicated in the Minister’s view that the countryside is peppered with turbines.
“However onshore wind will only supply a small amount of our electricity demand, and as marine sites are technically much more difficult, and will take longer, then we need to look at alternatives, and that means replacing our aging nuclear stations and even extending them.”
Thornton Moor Windfarm Action Group is campaigning against replacing existing wind turbines on Ovenden Moor with nine new ones, each 115m in size.
Kirsty Breaks, the group’s spokesman, said: “No matter how many politicians speak out about their concerns about wind energy, no matter how many environmentalists express concerns, and no matter how many local people on the ground object to individual planning applications, we are all being over-ruled by the commitments made by a few government officials, not just in respect of the EU renewable energy targets, but the energy policies of this coalition government.
“We will continue to lobby our politicians both locally and nationally until we see that our concerns are being addressed. Until now, every wind turbine in and around Thornton has been granted planning permission even though we have asked Bradford Council to look at the bigger picture and agree a strategy for future wind development in this area.”
As for the prospect of new nuclear power stations, Mr Thomson believes successive governments had dithered during the last ten years. The decommissioning of nine existing nuclear power stations by 2023, in line with EU energy policy, may yet catch us out.
He said: “Even if the Hitachi scheme proceeds it will be well into the 2020s before they are up and running. They are only looking at two sites, the current ones at Wylfa in Wales and Oldbury in Gloucestershire, and the £700m is for the early design work only – a bit like the recent announcement of Trident replacement.
“They will take ten years to build, and the final cost could be around £6 billion each if they are anywhere like the current projects in Brittany and Finland. They are third generation designs, and it might be better now to wait for the fourth generation which actually gobble up all the stored waste.
“It looks as though we are going to be dependent on fossil fuels for some time to come, and the use of fracked gas is a problem as it produces more CO2 than imported liquefied natural gas.
“In addition there will be a temptation to move over to coal as it has become very cheap on the global market. The intensive use of fracking in the States means that many coal-fired stations have moved over to gas, leaving a coal surplus.
“The fact that the Energy minister has just announced funding for carbon capture and sequestration trials, plus the planning approval for more open-cast mining does suggest that fossil fuel use will dominate for years to come despite the fact the technology is not proven.
“It seems clear that CO2 molecules will have little to fear in the immediate future.”