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UK must rethink onshore wind

The UK looks likely to fall short of its European Union (EU) target to generate 15% of its overall energy from renewable sources by 2020.

And, no doubt, there will be some policymakers who will shrug their shoulders over the news, arguing that now the country is leaving the EU, the target can be safely ignored.

But the less shortsighted and narrow minded will recognise that whether the UK is part of the EU or not, the country needs secure, affordable, low-carbon energy. On air quality grounds alone, Britain needs to clean up its act.

A report by UK consultancy Arup, commissioned by ScottishPower, offers a pointer to ministers and officials. New onshore wind can deliver electricity at £50-55/MWh (€56-61/MWh), it says.

That is competitive with gas generation, and 40% below that offered to the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, the capital costs and completion dates of which have been stretched. Again.

The stumbling block is that UK government policy since 2015 has been to deny onshore wind access to support and to impose new permitting hurdles.

The Arup report argues that if onshore wind was given access to the contracts for difference auctions, it would be bidding at the same price as gas, currently the cheapest source.

It would, effectively, be subsidy free. Crucially though, fixed-price contracts provide the investment environment for developers to secure finance.

A relaxation of the 125-metre tip height limit would also allow developers to deploy the latest wind-power technology and drive down costs further, but the report doesn’t make this case.

The government was due to publish a clean growth plan late in 2016. The fall-out from the Brexit referendum, departmental reorganisations, ministerial changes, and another general election in which the Conservatives contrived to lose their overall majority, have pushed that back until the autumn.

We should find out then whether the administration has been paying attention.

Hard figures

General Electric’s second-quarter results made for some interesting reading. The division providing services and equipment to the oil and gas industry, merged with Baker Hughes in a $23 billion deal in July, made a profit of $155 million, which was 52% down year on year.

The renewable energy division made a profit $160 million, 25% up on the second quarter in 2016. The direction of travel seems pretty clear.

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