According to recent figures produced by the Public Attitude Tracker of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), 80 percent of the UK public supports the use of renewable energy to provide electricity. While 70 percent of people are in favour of onshore wind farms – the highest figure recorded since the opinion poll began in March 2012. Offshore wind farms saw slightly higher support, at 77 percent, with the same percentage for wave and tidal.[i]

The figures also reveal that the public view energy security and climate change jointly in fourth place as a major issue affecting the country today – only unemployment, inflation and the NHS scored higher.[ii]  Of those surveyed, two thirds (68 percent) said they were very or fairly concerned about climate change, with only 47 percent viewing nuclear power as bringing economic benefits to the UK, compared with 70 percent who instead thought renewables did. Three quarters of people also considered the nation was not investing quickly enough in alternative energy sources.[iii]

This high level of support for wind power comes despite recent government action to cut subsidies for onshore wind farms. Responding to the report, Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of RenewableUK, said “This poll should serve as a clear wake-up call for the Conservatives. … People want to see the UK developing its abundant renewable energy resources – including onshore and offshore wind. It seems that the only people the Tories are actually in touch with are Nigel Farage and his cabal of fossil fuel advocates”.[iv]

In 2013, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that “current planning decisions on onshore wind are not always reflecting a locally-led planning system” and making sure that “protecting the local environment is properly considered alongside the broader issues of protecting the global environment” is important.[v] Should they win a majority in 2015, the Conservative have said they will end public subsidies for any new onshore wind farms. Whilst those already planned and existing farms will be protected, these (along with other renewable resources) would be enough to meet targets set by the European Union to have 15 percent of all electricity generated from renewables by 2020.[vi]

The DECC did release a statement in April, detailing eight new renewable projects which, by 2020, will support 8,500 jobs and add a further 4.5GW (around 4 percent) of electricity to Britain’s energy mix, enough to power three million homes. On completion, these projects will contribute 15TWh (14 percent) of total renewable electricity in 2020, reducing carbon emissions by 10 megatonnes of CO2 per year compared to power generation from fossil fuels, said Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.[vii] “Record levels of energy investment are at the forefront of the Government’s infrastructure programme”. The eight projects include 5 offshore wind farms, 2 biomass conversions and 1 biomass combined heat and power station. With the UK leading the world with regards offshore wind farms, more renewable electricity generation is needed as fossil fuels decline.[viii] According to the UK Wind Energy Database, already 26.4MWh of energy is produced from on and offshore wind turbines in the UK, the equivalent of 6.1 million homes powered, and with a CO2 reduction of 11.3 million tonnes a year.[ix]

The Public Attitude Tracker also recorded that whilst three quarters of the public were aware of the controversial process called fracking (hydraulic fracking of shale rock to extract gas or oil), support stands at only 29 percent.[x]  May 2014 also saw the publication of a new report by researchers at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, which claimed (excluding shale oil and gas), the UK has 5.2 years of oil, 4.5 years of coal and 3 years of gas left.[xi] “This report”, said Jennifer Webber, Director of External Affairs at RenewableUK, the trade body for UK wind and marine renewables industries, “is a timely reminder of the need to develop our nation’s significant renewable energy resources to the maximum well before the UK’s fossil fuels dwindle away to nothing. That’s why it’s puzzling that the Conservatives have said they want to stop financial support for future onshore wind projects, especially as onshore wind is the cheapest mainstream form of renewable energy we have in the toolkit”.[xii]

The cuts to onshore wind subsidies are significant if Britain is to push ahead with a low carbon future. The Energy and Climate Change Act of 2008 demands a cut of 80 percent carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Cutting subsidies for onshore wind adds a further difficulty in reaching this goal, if communities are put off from constructing wind farms in their local areas. Onshore wind turbines are easier to install, compared with offshore, which tend to be more expensive.[xiii] On the continent, however, wind power looks set to prove itself in the transport sector. From next year, half of all trains in the Netherlands will run via electricity generated from renewable sources, with this figure set to double to 100 percent in 2018. The electricity will be generated by the Dutch electricity firm Eneco.[xiv]

Timo Hughes, Chairman and CEO of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the main Dutch passenger railway operator, said that the contract between NS and Eneco “is a perfect example of how organisations in the rail sector work closely together to improve passenger experience and sustainable mobility”. The electricity contract per year is for 1.4TWh, of which 1.2TWh will be used by NS and the other 0.2 planned for other rail companies; 1.4 terawatt hours of electricity is enough to power the whole of Amsterdam, a city of 1.5 million people, for a year.[xv] Half of the electricity will be generated from wind farms located in Holland, the other half from elsewhere in the Netherlands, and from Belgium and Scandinavia.[xvi] Whilst on average a car emits 125 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre travelled, trains release a lot less, at 30 grams and, from 2018, will emit zero grams. Electricity consumption of NS has been cut by 30 percent since 2005. Approximately 1.2 million passengers are carried by NS daily.[xvii]

In Britain, by contrast, only 40 percent of the railway network is electrified, although Network Rail is currently involved in electrification of more of the network. The electrification of lines across the North, in addition to the Great West Mainline will together save 64,000 tonnes of CO2 a year which is approximately 2 percent of all traction emissions in Britain. Whilst Network Rail recognises that this electrification work will “lay the foundations for very low carbon services in the future, as electricity generation is decarbonised nationally in line with Government targets”, a ten year deal, due to begin in October, with electricity company EDF Energy will result in 100 percent of Network Rail’s energy for traction electricity (the electricity used to power passenger and freight trains) being generated from EDF’s nuclear power stations.[xviii] Although this might lay the framework for a low carbon future, with the removal of incentives for onshore wind, there is still some way to go to match the Netherlands’ impressive example.

 

Sources:

[i] See DECC Public Attitudes Tracker survey – Wave 9 (Summary of headline findings), 29 April 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306898/summary_of_key_findings_wave_9.pdf. See also RenewableUK, ‘Press Release: Public support for onshore wind at record level proving the Tories are out of touch’, 29 April 2014: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/2014-04-29-public-support-for-onshore-wind-at-record-level-proving-the-tories-are-out-of-touch.

[ii] DECC Public Attitudes Tracker survey – Wave 9 (Summary of headline findings), 29 April 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306898/summary_of_key_findings_wave_9.pdf.

[iii] RenewableUK, ‘Press Release: Public support for onshore wind at record level proving the Tories are out of touch’, 29 April 2014: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/2014-04-29-public-support-for-onshore-wind-at-record-level-proving-the-tories-are-out-of-touch.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Written statement to Parliament – ‘Local planning and onshore wind’, 6 June 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/local-planning-and-onshore-wind.

[vi]RenewableUK, ‘Press Release: bad news as Conservatives threaten UK energy security’, 24 April 2014: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/renewableuk-bad-news-as-conservatives-threaten-uk-energy-security; Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, ‘Press Release (DECC): Onshore Wind: communities to have a greater say and increased benefits’,  6 June 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/onshore-wind-communities-to-have-a-greater-say-and-increased-benefits. See also EU Renewable Energy: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm; National Renewable Energy Action Plan for the United Kingdom: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/47871/25-nat-ren-energy-action-plan.pdf; DECC, ‘Policy: Increasing the use of low-carbon technologies’, updated 13 May 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/increasing-the-use-of-low-carbon-technologies.

[vii] Government unveils eight major new renewables projects, supporting 8,500 green jobs: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-unveils-eight-major-new-renewables-projects-supporting-8500-green-jobs.

[viii] Renewable UK, ‘Offshore Wind’: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/offshore-wind/.

[ix] See RenewableUK, ‘UK Wind Energy Database (UKWED)’: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/uk-wind-energy-database/index.cfm. See also RenewableUK, ‘UKWED Figures Explained’: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/uk-wind-energy-database/figures-explained.cfm.

[x] DECC Public Attitudes Tracker survey – Wave 9 (Summary of headline findings), 29 April 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306898/summary_of_key_findings_wave_9.pdf.

[xi] RenewableUK, ‘Press Releases: Wind energy is vital, as new report shows fossil fuels dwindle’, 16 May 2014: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/wind-energy-is-vital-as-new-report-shows-fossil-fuels-dwindle.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Wind Energy: Implications of large-scale deployment on the GB electricity system’, April 2014, p. 4: http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/wind_report.pdf.

[xiv] Eneco, ‘Climate-neutral rail journeys become reality by 2018’, 15 May 2014: http://news.eneco.com/climate-neutral-rail-journeys-become-reality-by-2018/.

[xv] Population figures taken from here: http://statline.cbs.nl/StatWeb/publication/?DM=SLNL&PA=37230ned&D1=17&D2=57-100&D3=l&LA=EN&HDR=G2&STB=G1,T&VW=T.

[xvi] Energy Matters, ‘Netherlands Trains to Run on 100% Green Energy by 2018’, 21 May 2014: http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=4312.

[xvii] Eneco, ‘Climate-neutral rail journeys become reality by 2018’, 15 May 2014: http://news.eneco.com/climate-neutral-rail-journeys-become-reality-by-2018/.

[xviii] Network Rail, ‘Energy Efficiency’: http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/sustainability-update/2013/energy-efficiency/.