A growing area of interest within the environmental policy debate has been the issue of wind power as a growing form of renewable energy and to what extent it should be promoted by politicians in the UK. Wind power has been viewed as an environmentally friendly (and potentially safer and more stable) alternative to coal or nuclear-fired power stations as a means of producing important energy forms, e.g. electricity, which are used by British consumers and industries on a daily basis. The Labour government from 1997 made clear attempts to speed up this area of ‘cleaner’ and non-polluting power production by accelerating the growth of such wind turbines (both onshore and offshore) as part of its overall strategy of achieving 15% of the country’s energy through renewable methods by the year 2010, and 30% by 2020. However, it arguably made limited progress on this front as, by 2008, the figure was a mere 1.5%.
Of the three major parties (apart from the Greens), the Liberal Democrats made the most explicit commitment to further develop this energy source during recent general elections, promising to regenerate disused shipyards in order to create turbines and associated employment in the process. With such schemes fairly expensive and offshore types more so, the austerity measures of the coalition government made some impact on this policy area, and in 2011 the Conservative–Liberal Democrat administration sanctioned the first offshore wind farm for over two years (to be built in Humberside). (*See an example of an offshore windfarm in the image below right.) In 2013, the coalition government announced a reform of planning laws that would allow local opposition to override national energy targets when ‘wind farms’ were proposed, while also offering financial subsidies (and possibly reduced energy bills) for communities or neighbourhoods that accept them. However, back in power as a majority government after 2015, the Conservatives have signalled greater scepticism of this form of alternative energy and have blocked a number of proposed offshore (and particularly onshore) windfarms from being developed.
No to wind power
The use of this form of ‘green’ power has generated some political controversy, however. Critics of this form of energy production claim that it often blights the countryside with its bulky turbines, disrupting and damaging the natural habitat of various animals and wildlife in the process. It is also relatively expensive (which can impact on people’s energy bills), and it is unreliable and wholly reliant on wind (which, if it does not blow, renders such facilities unworkable for a period of time). In this sense, it is not as reliable or as efficient as the less environmentally friendly nuclear energy, and the Energy Secretary from 2015, Amber Rudd, is said to be opposed to this form of onshore energy production in particular. Subsidies for such projects have been cut, with an insistence on further conditions for offshore developments to be constructed.
Yes to wind power
However, despite its impact on parts of the countryside, key ‘green’ pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are generally supportive of the ‘cleaner’ form of energy production being rolled out further, and argue that it could stimulate wider growth in green-related industries, jobs and products within the UK. Those who favour this policy being extended also claim that it is cheaper in the long term than building nuclear power stations, and that the UK government’s aspiration to achieve 30% of its energy by renewable means reflects a lack of ambition and is rather limited in comparison to other EU countries that have far higher targets.