No faulty towers, if you please

By Eric Watkins

LOS ANGELES, June 4 – Will followers of the Bronte Sisters win out after all? Will the historically famous countryside near their family home be forever spared the view of wind towers as many literati and country folk wish? Will other areas of that green and pleasant land also be spared?

That’s the main question following revelations that ministers in the U.K. government are at odds with each other over public subsidies for onshore wind turbines.

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is fighting with Energy Secretary Ed Davey to cut funding for onshore wind turbine by 15% more than the 10% proposed earlier.

The government recognizes that generating electricity from renewable technologies is generally more costly than from long-established fossil fuelled technologies.

CHALLENGING TARGET

“If we are to meet this challenging target, appropriate support needs to be provided to these technologies to ensure that they are viable,” according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Without any cuts at all, the British government is on track to spend somewhere between £250-£280 million by 2016-17. Quite where a cut of 25% would leave wind power remains to be seen. But supporters and opponents were out in full force as word surfaced of the increased cut.

It is not altogether clear why the government should be proposing any cuts in the subsidy for onshore wind power just now. Some point to the 100 or so Conservative Members of Parliament who have signed a petition against wind farms. Others maliciously say the government is caving in to blandishments of the petroleum lobby.

Word of the disagreement came as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, in the state opening of Parliament, confirmed that MP’s would in the next 12 months receive long-awaited legislation aimed at encouraging investment into low-carbon energy.

BIGGEST SHAKEUP

The legislation will aim at reforming the country’s electricity market in what one observer called “the biggest shakeup” since the 1990s when privatization created one of the world’s most liberalized energy markets.

“My government will propose reform of the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure prices are fair,” the Queen said, adding that the government will introduce legislation to establish a Green Investment Bank.

The growing debate came as the International Energy Agency commended the U.K. as “leading by example” when it comes to seeking concrete solutions to the low-carbon investment challenge.

In Energy Policies of IEA Countries – United Kingdom 2012 Review, IEA applauds the UK’s long-term vision for a low-carbon future – greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 80% from 1990 to 2050 – and its achievements to date.

But the report also sounds some notes of caution regarding the design and implementation of the policies, while providing recommendations for UK policymakers to consider.

CONSTRUCTIVE ROLE

“The United Kingdom consistently plays a constructive role in international climate policy, and its domestic policies enhance its credibility on the world stage,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

“For the United Kingdom to decarbonize its economy and energy system, however, huge private-sector investments in energy infrastructure are needed,” van der Hoeven said.

“Consumers must be certain that they are paying for the most cost-effective solutions,” she said, adding that, “Enhanced co-operation with neighboring countries will increase electricity security.”

IEA said the U.K. government’s proposed Electricity Market Reform is a “pioneering effort” that will be closely observed by other countries as they seek to ensure continuing reliability of electricity systems while they promote timely de-carbonization of electricity supplies.

‘SUFFICIENTLY AWARE’

IEA noted that the Green Deal program, which the U.K. plans to launch later this year, aims to improve energy efficiency in buildings and public spaces. But it warned that for the program to succeed, the general public must be “sufficiently aware of its benefits.”

In a low-key criticism of the U.K.’s plans, IEA said that the transition to a low-carbon economy will take time, and that fossil fuels, in particular oil and natural gas, will remain important.

“The report therefore encourages the U.K. to maximize its remaining potential for oil and natural gas production as the low-carbon transition continues,” IEA said.

In case anyone failed to get the message, IEA spelled it out very clearly, saying that, “Oil imports are well diversified and oil stocks are very robust, while natural gas import capacity exceeds annual demand by a wide margin.”

BACK TO THE BRONTES

IEA also said that, “Large investments in LNG capacity have increased the flexibility of gas supply. Another asset is the liquid, well-functioning wholesale natural gas market.”

In a word, while endorsing the plans of the U.K. government to pursue its green policies, IEA also cautioned Whitehall not to forget the obvious: that green strategies – and strategists – must be prudent.

And the Bronte Sisters? Well, their supporters will doubtlessly welcome the IEA’s observation even as they celebrate a High Court ruling that villagers’ rights to enjoy their surrounding landscape are more important than any government-backed plans for the construction of four 350-ft wind towers in the area.

No faulty towers in that countryside, if you please.

© Glamma Productions Inc. 2012

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About Eric Watkins

Eric Watkins is a consultant specializing in oil diplomacy. A former journalist, Mr. Watkins's work has appeared in numerous leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, and specialist media such as Oil & Gas Journal, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), and Lloyd's List.
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