A new report investigating the importance of public opinion and policy priority on renewable energy development has concluded “winning community consent is the only sustainable way to deliver affordable, green energy to the UK in the long term.”
The report, published by the Fabian Society, described by Jessica Shankleman from BusinessGreen as a “left-leaning think tank”, focused on determining the role of community consent in addressing the “energy trilemma” (affordability, security of supply, and decarbonisation). It resolved that “the crucial investment needed to address the energy trilemma is at risk because public opinion and policy priorities create uncertainty for investors in renewable energy in the UK.”
Authored by Cameron Tait, a senior researcher with the Fabian Society, the report also found that more renewable energy projects are being rejected than ever before. Specifically, 57% of wind farm applications are currently being turned down — that’s up from 21% in 2008.
Percentage of onshore wind farm applications in the UK rejected, 2008-2014
Interestingly, these increasing levels of rejection come in the face of high levels of public support for renewable energy.
Polling previously done by the Fabian Society showed 70% of the public agreeing on a “collective duty to protect the environment for future generations.” Polling done by the UK Government has also shown increasing public support, with six in ten people approving large-scale renewable energy development in their area. The Fabian Society quote a UK Department of Energy & Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker Survey from 2014 showing public support for renewable energy had increased from 55% in March 2012 to 59% in March 2014.
In conclusion, Tait feels that “communities need to be given a greater role in infrastructure design and development.” Presumably, this would include minimizing the governmental oversight and intervention, especially as it pertains to the country’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government — the infamous Eric Pickles. In September of 2014, the UK renewable energy trade body, RenewableUK, condemned Eric Pickles for interfering in 50 wind farm planning applications, accusing the Minister of “taking decisions personally instead of allowing locally elected councillors and planning inspectors to do so.”
“Fifty interventions in onshore wind projects means higher bills for UK consumers, goes against public demand for renewable energy, and holds back action on climate change,” exclaimed RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith. “These sites would have meant half a billion pounds in local investment creating over 2,000 jobs. Eric Pickles is clearly relaxed about such unprecedented intervention in the planning system. He has politicised what should be an independent and impartial planning system with 98% of wind farm appeals are now being decided by Mr. Pickles himself. His guiding principle seems to be localism – as long as you do what I say.”
In the end, as with many fields of endeavor, local community support is vital: Distilling government intervention down to local politics, rather than allowing state or national policies to drive decision-making has long been a goal of many — for the renewable energy industry, it may very well be vital.