Britain: A Green and Pleasant Land?
Last weekend the city of Glasgow hosted the annual meeting of the biggest players in the wind, wave and tidal energy industries as the RenewableUK conference took place. Alongside the exhibitions a number of speakers were scheduled to address the 5000+ delegates. These included the First Minster of Scotland, Alex Salmond, a number of industry CEO’s and the newly appointed minister of state for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, John Hayes. When it came to Mr. Hayes’ turn to take the podium he had to apologise that he had nothing prepared and so he spoke “off the cuff.” Little did the audience know that his boss the energy secretary Ed Davey had instructed him to tear up his speech a few hours beforehand. Ed Davey had done this because Hayes was about to make the outrageous claim that the UK is planning to build too many onshore wind farms and that this process should be stopped.
Hayes was going to point to figures that suggested that the UK is on course to hit its 2020 renewable energy targets if all proposed wind projects are built, that is all the projects that have planning permission or are already under construction. Even though Ed Davey had the foresight to stop this blatant contradiction of Coalition policy Hayes also had the foresight to speak to the Daily Telegraph about his speech before he attended the conference. “Enough is enough” he said to the reporter. He went on to say that the number of wind turbines in the UK “seems extraordinary”, and “we can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities.”
Being on target for 2020 is no reason to begin slowing this green progress. Mr Hayes seems to have forgotten that fossils fuels are finite and that most of us look forward to a time when all of our energy comes from renewable sources. However Mr Hayes summed up his reasoning with a rather crass reference to William Blake: “I can’t single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.” This quote aptly sums up the noisy patriotic minority that he is representing however it also sums up equally well the NIMBY attitude that is rife within this conservative camp. Most of us can appreciate the aerodynamic beauty of these modernistic structures and frankly the opposite argument of Hayes and co. is growing quite old. We need to pursue a green future, not Victorian ideals of countryside aesthetics.
You would hope that Mr Hayes will be reeled in by his immediate and ultimate bosses, Ed Davey and David Cameron respectively. Unfortunately this episode is only the latest in a string of energy policy disasters to have hit the coalition and it appears that the confidence of the industry big guns has taken a beating. The repeated calamities have discouraged investors and developers alike and so it seems that Mr Hayes and the NIMBY party might have succeeded, if only by a little. The Prime Minister spoke out in response to the latest mishap in an attempt to reassure the business community by insisting that there has been no change in government policy but the damage had already been done. The chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association released a statement which pointed out that “Investors want predictability of policy, they want to see government support. Multinational investors will look around the globe and ask, ‘Who can we trust?'” She went on to say “This is very damaging.”