United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Odd coalition should curb wind scepticism

In the UK election without a winner, wind and other renewables appear to have scored a victory.

With no one able to win enough seats to form a majority, the centre-right pro-nuclear Conservative Party ended up forging an unlikely alliance with the centre-left anti-nuclear Liberal Democrats, ostensibly the greenest and most pro-renewables of the UK's three major parties. The deal banished the centre-left but pro-nuclear Labour Party - which had governed with thumping majorities for 13 years - to the wilderness of opposition.

As part of a condition of the deal that stipulated that Liberal Democrats should be given cabinet posts, the soft-left, greenish Chris Huhne was appointed to the highest political energy job in the land, that of climate secretary. Huhne will lead the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc). That may come as a relief to those who feared a Conservative energy overlord would have put wind in the shade.

Details are still vague but, under the coalition, the signs for wind look good. Some Conservatives had been hawkish on Labour's Renewables Obligation Certificates, but they will stay, at least for projects that are already benefitting from them. Meanwhile, pro-renewables elements in the coalition have won their battle to usher in a system of feed-in tariffs, fixing prices for renewables input.

While it is true that some senior Conservatives are advocates of the rollout of green energy, this is not a particularly pro-renewables party. Many of its rump - and, rumour has it, some of its ministers - do not believe in man-made global warming. As such, the party's will to set demanding targets for new wind build is weak, particularly given the traditional resistance in England to locating wind farms in the country's rural hinterland, from where the Conservatives draw their core support. A pre-election survey of the 250 Conservative candidates in the most winnable seats revealed that reducing Britain's carbon footprint was their lowest priority. A low priority is not a priority at all.

An ideal marriage

It is true that the man whom Huhne pipped to the energy brief, the erstwhile Conservative shadow climate secretary Greg Clark, has been keen to sell green power to so-called climate sceptics. He has done so on the basis that having a diverse, home-grown, low-pollution energy supply is beneficial whether man-made global warming is happening or not. Clark now finds himself in a more junior role as planning minister.

Planning is devolved to the UK's Celtic nations, so his jurisdiction covers England only. But, having someone who understands how green-energy is as much about energy security as it is about mitigating climate change in charge of planning in such a wind-power-resistant country is welcome. Sources say that, when in opposition, Clark helped nudge the Conservatives' shadow planning bill in a less nimbyish direction after emphasising that the Conservative Party would not be in office again for a long time should it come to power and the lights go out.

With Huhne in power at Decc, and Clark seemingly ready to forge a sensible line in English planning, wind has done better than it would under majority Conservative rule.

In the backroom horse-trading that always precedes coalition deals, the sector has emerged the victor. It is an accidental victor, perhaps, but a winner nevertheless.

- Ben Walker is editor of Windpower Monthly.

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