A Lords select committee took evidence from 67 witnesses, including ministers, members of the European parliament, the renewables industry, environmental groups and academia. Almost all doubted whether the substantial increase in renewables called for by EU governments would be delivered. In particular it chastises the UK for failing to recognise the shortcomings of its permitting process for renewables and calls for planning inspectors to be held more accountable for their decisions when these ignore government policy. Regional targets for renewable energy would help in local decision making.
On wind energy, the committee is strongly supportive. It points to inconsistencies in applying planning guidelines and calls for a "general planning presumption in favour of wind farm proposals." Government should also provide incentives to community wind projects in order to foster local support.
The Lords dismiss some of the arguments of opponents: noise is no longer a serious issue, states the report, and "arguments about visual intrusion can be overstated." Furthermore, renewables should not be expected to compete with traditional generation as long as the price of electricity from fossil fuels ignores the external costs of pollution. They concede that the government is attempting to reflect such costs in its proposed Climate Change Levy (page 23).
Meanwhile, a support mechanism to replace the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) is overdue. The Lords commend a proposal put forward by the Non-Fossil Purchasing Agency-for capacity based orders for renewables secured through competitive bidding for contracts granted by an agency like the NFPA-for its flexibility and simplicity. Under such a system, renewable electricity would be auctioned by the agency, with the difference between the cost and value of the electricity levied on electricity consumers.
The cost of any support mechanism could be met by a charge on consumers of only £0.0006/kWh-less than a tenth of the proposed Climate Change Levy-and just 1% on electricity bills.
Despite much talk by ministers of "joined-up government," too often the experience is of anything but a co-ordinated and coherent approach to policy, observe the Lords. They call for a "renewable energy agency with real teeth."
The Lords endorse the European Commission's attempts to press for a degree of consistency in its proposed Directive on renewables. Support mechanisms need to be broadly similar to avoid distortions when electricity is traded across national boundaries, states the report. It welcomes the EC stimulus provided under both the reinstated Directive and the "Campaign for Take-off" (Windpower Monthly, May 1999).
The Lords report-published in July-has been submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry for consideration in its review of renewable energy.