How british Nimbys are sabotaging renewables

 By Nicholas Newman

Over the past decade, British governments have supported the development and investment in renewables as part of efforts to cut reliance on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse emissions. However, there has been a small vocal minority, who have hated the sight of renewables on the landscape. Across the land, we have seen protests at planning meetings against new hydro, wind and solar schemes and the construction of new power lines to link such projects to the customer. The british Nimbys (Not in my back yard) have used every trick in the book to slow down renewable development. They use a variety of arguments including, that is has a negative impact on the landscape. Unfortunately, for all those involved in the renewables business in Britain, recently the government, because of the lobbying efforts of anti-renewables british Nimby’s, have dramatically cut back funding for renewables… 

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More than five percent of the UK’s total energy supply (electricity, heat and fuel for transport) came from renewables in 2014 and renewables from wind, hydro, solar and biomass accounted for 15 percent of electricity generation. Over the past decade, British governments have actively encouraged and supported renewables, with a range of financial incentives including generous feed-in tariffs, heat premium payments, grants and tax reliefs as well as improvements to existing grid connections. If recent progress is maintained, the UK would seem to be well on course to meet the European Union’s clean energy goals for 2020.

The rapid development of renewables has been encouraged by government commitment and public support. Almost 75 percent of UK citizens support renewables according to a recent government survey. Anecdotally, Gill Knight, a teacher in Oxford says, “I live in an area which has got lots of fields as we’re partly in the countryside. I would love to see some wind turbines in the fields close to me.” However, the same survey reports that five percent of respondents oppose renewables and one percent are “strongly opposed.” Opposition is primarily based on the project’s visual impact on the countryside. For example, opponent’s typically say,” solar is ugly,” “wind turbines ruin the view” and “ horses hate wind farms.” In actual fact, there are some 465 solar farms in Britain occupying only around 200 acres which is 0.0003 percent of Britain’s land mass. Or, to put it into context, less than half the amount of land taken up by mini golf courses in England alone.

UK energy mix
The Nimby's lack of evidence-based opposition and, likewise, the government's lack of evidence-based decision-making, does not bode well for meeting binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Opponents, known as Nimby’s (i.e. Not In My Back-Yard) have often been successful in delaying projects. A celebrated case in point is that of American Presidential contender, Donald Trump, who has opposed in the courts construction of a new offshore wind farm within sight of his Menie golf resort in Scotland. Having lost in the UK’s Supreme Court in December 2015, he is reportedly considering an appeal to the European Court.

At a local level, in Oxfordshire where I live, local farmer Charles Landless, plans to build an 11-hectare solar farm to produce five megawatts (MW) of electricity a year – enough to power 1,515 homes. He grows crops, runs beef cattle, and intends to graze sheep around his proposed solar panels. And yet Michael Tyce, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Oxfordshire branch, states “We oppose the use of land for solar farms because we think the land is best used for agriculture.” A proposed wind farm for nearby Bicester is opposed by local councillor James Macnamara, who warns, “this will open the floodgates to industrial development across swathes of our countryside” notwithstanding the fact that all projects are subject to local planning laws. Similarly, in Scotland, Nimby’s oppose the installation of new high capacity power lines stretching through the bleak and largely uninhabited areas of the Highlands to the oil port of Aberdeen on the grounds of its visual impact.

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Nimby’s oppose not only the obvious large-scale wind and solar farms but also fish friendly micro-hydro schemes on weirs along the River Thames. Richard Knowles, of the Upper Thames Fisheries Consultative group opposes such plans, claiming, “some hydropower schemes kill fish which are sucked into the turbines.” Whilst Peter Wiblin, of the Abingdon Hydro committee states, “there is no evidence that it harms fish or wildlife.”

For the renewable industry, the threat to its current and future development comes not so much from local Nimby’s, but from government itself, which recently announced dramatic cutbacks in subsidies and funding for the industry. This unforeseen turn-around in government policy has resulted in bringing corporate investment in the UK’s renewable sector to a halt. In response, major energy companies have announced plans to divert investment away from the UK. The Solar Trade Association warns that over 6,000 jobs are at risk.

This very recent reversal of government policy is perhaps reflective of the change from a coalition to a majority party government, with its new ministers and the government’s austerity program. Surprisingly, the announcement of a 65 percent reduction in subsidies to households for new installations of rooftop solar panels was made just days after the 2015 climate change conference in Paris. Unsurprisingly, it has been heavily criticized from all quarters.

The Nimby’s lack of evidence-based opposition and, likewise, the government’s lack of evidence-based decision-making, does not bode well for meeting binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is likely that, should the UK remain in the EU, the government will have to change direction to avoid being prosecuted in the European Court.

about the author
Nicholas Newman
Freelance energy journalist and copywriter who regularly writes for AFRELEC, Economist, Energy World, EER, Petroleum Review, PGJ, E&P, Oil Review Africa, Oil Review Middle East. Shale Gas Guide.