Plans for a huge expansion of the world’s largest windfarm, the London Array in the Thames Estuary, have been scrapped. The consortium running the project blame the abandonment of an additional 65 giant turbines on “various factors”, but especially the requirement for a 3-year study on the potential impact on birds. The Thames estuary site is a designated environmental Special Protection Area.
The decision represents a major blow to the coalition government’s renewable energy goals. Not least as it is the fifth major UK windfarm project to be scrapped or scaled back in just three months. In November 2013 the Atlantic Array, a project for 240 turbines off the North Devon coast was scrapped. That was followed in December by the abandonment of the 300 turbine Argyll Array due to “uncertain costs”. Since then plans for 350 turbines covering two windfarms off the Lincolnshire coast have also had the plug pulled.
Commenting in the wake of the London Array announcement Nick Medic, speaking for the trade body Renewable UK, was keen to point out that Britain was still giving a “global lead” on windfarm development, he could not disguise his dismay that the Government was increasingly giving out “mixed messages” on renewable energy generally.
The bigger picture is a sea change in opinion at both European and UK Government level — at least its conservative element.
At root is what formerly ideologically green Eurocrats have been forced to admit are the unsustainable “staggering costs” of wind, solar and other renewable energy subsidies. While energy insiders have warned for years that renewable energy projects would never pay their way, the hard-hitting reality has finally begun to dawn on politicians feeling the hot breath of their electorates as the cost of energy has risen steadily to the top of the democratic agenda.
That culminated last year in the EU and Germany announcing the need to roll back generous renewable subsidy schemes. And no wonder. In Germany alone, the cost to consumers and businesses had peaked at a staggering $32 billion a year. As a result, Germany’s heavy industry chiefs put Angela Merkel’s government on notice that a re-location of German industries was a very real prospect. Equally, Germany’s knee-jerk reaction to abandon its nuclear power following the Japanese Fukushima disaster. However, it had the unintended effect of forcing German industries to turn to cheap coal use – ironically, much of it imported from America – with the resultant deleterious impact on carbon emissions.
EU steelmakers are currently paying twice as much for their power as their U.S. counterparts. In Denmark, allegedly the shining example of the success of wind power generation, domestic electricity costs are now three times higher than in the United States. Meanwhile, the refusal of Europe generally, the UK being the major exception, to countenance following the U.S. and pursue its own shale gas and oil revolution has merely amplified the Europe-United States divide that is making European heavy industry increasingly uncompetitive in world markets.
Americans now pay around half of what Europeans pay for their gas. And the switch of U.S. industry to gas from coal has also seen U.S. domestic coal use fall significantly. Most embarrassingly for Europe, that in turn has had the effect of reducing U.S. carbon emissions – the chief driver of most European energy policies — much faster than in the EU.
Europe and Britain have indeed provided a “global lead” in renewable energy and wind power use. But it is a lead the rest of the world ought to view with economic trepidation. As the UK and European example shows plainly, the harsh reality is that renewable energy will always need the oxygen of massive public subsidy. And that is the chief reason we are now seeing the UK’s ‘green’ wind power ambitions being blown away so spectacularly.
Peter Glover is the author of the bestseller ‘Energy and Climate Wars’ (Bloomsbury) and a regular contributor to Breitbart London.