Britain’s wind power industry has exploded in recent years as the government has committed to strict carbon emission reductions. However, last week was a bad one for the industry. It was battered from all sides as stories about wind farm revolts in Wales and green energy bill increases made the national news.
1500 protesters gathered on the steps of the Welsh Assembly last Tuesday to demand the end of a large wind farm in central Wales. Residents are angry with the aesthetic and social impact that 800 turbines covering hundreds of square miles will have on the countryside. In addition, The Telegraph printed a story that stated that the math for the new turbines doesn’t add up. The £2 billion project will produce about 300 megawatts of power, whereas the new nearby gas-fed power plant cost £400 million and produces three times as much electricity. The turbines also require an additional £120 million per year in government subsidies.
The Daily Mail continued the assault by reporting a story on the cost of the whole national climate change plan. It criticized the government’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, the toughest of any country in the world. Advisers on climate change estimated that the plan required a sacrifice of 1% of UK GDP to meet the target or £500 per household.
Another blow was delivered at the end of the week when government wind speed estimates were reported. In the past 16 months, winds have been calmer than expected and last year’s wind speeds were 20% less than 2008 levels. Meteorologists predict that changes in the jet steam could calm the UK’s wind for forty years to come, putting the whole plan in jeopardy.
If greenhouse gas is the UK’s sole focus, nuclear power would be the cheaper alternative. In fact, it is part of their existing plan: on the same day the Daily Mail printed the £500 per person article, Reuters reported that the government was pushing forward with plans to build new nuclear plants. Energy Minister Chris Huhme said, “We want to see new nuclear as part of a low carbon energy mix going forward, provided there is no public subsidy.” Strangely, however, that same subsidy restriction does not apply to wind power — a project that is currently costing hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidy for a fraction of the power.