Industry betrayed by political treachery

Traditionally this is a quiet time of year. But in the heat of the summer recess, with large sections of the wind industry on vacation, events have been taking place that demand attention, holidays or not.

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There are sinister revelations of broken promises and policy decisions overturned in Spain. The government has announced an about-turn on its support - denying feed-in-tariffs already guaranteed - a reversal that will likely wipe out one of the largest, best-established wind sectors in the world. The country's energy and industry minister claims this decision is "hard but necessary". What he fails to explain is how a government can go back on its word and, in doing so, completely destroy foreign investor confidence in what has been a crucial industrial success story for Spain. If one government can renege in this way, will the industry fear a domino effect?

In the UK, the offshore sector has been pushed back, with the government again stalling on its commitment of support. While confirmation was expected on the support for larger project contracts, a policy change means the industry must wait until the end of the year for clarification. The effect on UK investment is sadly predictable — further delays and continued destabilisation of a young industry that had been expecting to receive endorsement from a government keen to reap the economic and environmental benefits.

The UK government did set out guaranteed prices for energy, but by applying different time periods for different energy sources implied that wind is similarly priced to nuclear. Yet, when factoring in the varying lengths of commitment, the figures reveal that wind is likely to be the cheaper option by some margin.

Unfortunately, mistruths like this can quickly become accepted facts, and it is a complex task to re-establish reality for those outside the industry seeking simple answers to how much wind energy actually costs.

One part of the cost of energy equation that is blighted by misinformation is back-up - with the fallacy being that it adds significantly to wind energy's cost. It does not. Our comprehensive article explains the truth, and offers realistic facts and figures that can be shared beyond the industry.

Encouraging signs

Despite the bleak policy revelations, it is encouraging to note that there are regions showing growth, and signs of an industry that continues to progress. While much of Europe languishes in the doldrums of the financial downturn, in Egypt, despite a more acute crisis, the energy minister is still in place and planned wind projects appear to be continuing. This is an industry that may yet develop, despite difficult times. US president Barack Obama, too, has pledged $7 million to increase access to electricity in Africa, which will involve growth in wind and other renewables.

The visual event of the month, while a major logistical headache, is also a positive story and one that clearly benefits from taking place during the quiet holiday period. Motorways in Denmark were closed to enable transportation of the world's longest blades some 170 kilometres across the country, en route to a pilot project in Scotland, where the 7MW Samsung turbine is being tested. Industry innovation and growth goes on.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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