Is wind energy what we want?

By Jessica Allan - 05 Aug 2011 13:9:0 GMT
Is wind energy what we want?

On the 2nd August Chris Huhne addressed employees of the wind energy company Vestas at their new research and development facility on the Isle of Wight. Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, stated that as we work towards becoming a low carbon economy "clean green wind energy will have a key role to play in the transition".

Wind energy does seem a very attractive option - it can be produced in the UK, which could massively increase energy security, lower greenhouse emissions and act as a buffer against global energy price fluctuations. When appropriately sited, the visual impacts of wind turbines can be mitigated to an extent.

However, amongst all this positivity, it must be acknowledged that implementing wind energy on a large scale is incredibly problematic. It is questionable whether the British public are prepared to allow big wind farms to be built in rural areas (which are the most suitable locations). While the majority of public surveys indicate that there is a high level of support for wind energy in theory, when a planning application is submitted it becomes clear that there is often strong and powerful opposition.

Even when the majority of local residents are in favour of a wind farm, any opponents of it can have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of planning decisions. Often this opposition stems from good intention; organisations such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) can be well-meaning but lacking in pragmatism. Interestingly, a study published in Energy Policy in 2005 showed that every opposition campaign supported by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) resulted in defeat of the wind farm proposal.

Faced with public opposition, energy companies may be reluctant to propose further developments in the UK, particularly when other European countries are far more accepting. Solutions to public negativity are few and apparently ineffective; financial benefits given to local communities are regarded as bribes and community ownership schemes do not seem to have the same appeal in the UK as they do in Germany, for example. The UK has one of the best wind resources in Europe but is outperformed by other countries, such as Germany and Spain. It would seem to make more sense to use these natural resources to produce a sustainable energy supply.

Perhaps now that politicians appear to be actively backing renewables (alongside nuclear energy), their positivity and confidence will filter through to public opinion and developers. The alternative is to stick with oil and gas, which will only become more expensive and prevent the UK from meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets. So, really, there is no other option.

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