Wind turbines have been suffering the slings and arrows of critics for years, but it looks like the tables have been turned. The arguments against wind power are running out of steam as costs drop and ratepayers chase after the savings. A ratepayer-driven, pro-wind revolution is brewing over in the UK, and it could be heading to the US soon.
20,000 Communities Demand Local Wind Turbines
The renewable energy startup Octopus Energy is behind the ratepayer-driven wind revolution. The UK company has been extending its reach into the US, beginning with a foothold in Texas (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).
Octopus first sailed across the CleanTechnica radar back in 2020, when it acquired the US firm Evolve Energy. The former CEO of Evolve, Michael Lee, told CleanTechnica about the basic premise behind his company’s software, which is to provide individual households that own rooftop solar arrays with the same tools that industrial ratepayers use to save money on their electricity bills.
“People have a hard time understanding kilowatts, but they understand cash,” Lee said. The software signals ratepayers to use electricity when rates are low, and sell it back to the grid when rates are high.
At the time, Lee envisioned that the allure of cheap electricity would motivate more households to install rooftop solar panels, and that rooftop solar arrays would become bigger, too.
Lee went on to become CEO at Octopus Energy USA, and Octopus is now the second-largest energy supplier in the UK.
Octopus has also been laying the groundwork for ratepayers to catch the economic benefits of wind turbines. However, not on rooftops. Instead of pitching small scale wind turbines for individual homes, the company has been priming the pump for local residents to support wind farms in their community, by offering discounts for locally generated wind.
The company claims that its “Fan Club” program has attracted thousands of local wind turbine supporters in the UK through a discount program.
“We’ve had over 20,000 requests from communities wanting local wind turbines with discounted electricity through our Fan Club,” Octopus stated in an email.
More Local Wind Turbines For More Communities, Faster
Octopus also explained that in the UK, those 20,000 local wind turbine requests have been backlogged for eight years, due to permitting restrictions.
Now the dam could be about to bust wide open, at least in the UK. On September 5, the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, Michael Gove, issued an official policy statement for onshore wind turbines.
Writing in his capacity as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Gove stated that “the Government has heard the strength of feeling and range of views on onshore wind.”
Whatever those views may be, apparently the positives outweighed the negatives by a long shot.
The new UK national policy removes a longstanding requirement that suitable locations for onshore wind turbines must be determined through a community’s development plan. That requirement has accounted for some of the bottleneck.
“Development plans can take a number of years to be produced and adopted and we want to be clear that other, more agile and targeted routes are appropriate,” Gove explained. “For example, through Local Development Orders, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.”
“We hope that this will mean sites are identified more quickly, speeding up the process of allocating sites for onshore wind projects, and ultimately, and as a consequence more clean and renewable energy is generated sooner,” he added.
Another Obstacle Removed
The new policy also removes another key bottleneck. Gove noted that the original intent of the previous wind siting policy had become mangled to prioritize objections over more widespread community support.
“We have heard accounts that current policy has been applied in such a way that a very limited number of objections, and even at times objections of single individuals, have been taken as showing a lack of community backing,” Gove said. “This is not the policy intent, and as a result of today’s policy change it will now be important that local decision makers are able to take a more balanced approach, considering the views of communities as a whole.”
Where The Rubber Hits The Road
In particular, one passage in Gove’s statement reads like a page out of Octopus’s playbook.
“We are also clear that local areas that support hosting onshore wind should directly benefit,” he wrote. “That is why we have consulted on proposals for improved rewards and benefits to be offered to communities backing onshore wind farms, including potential energy bill discounts.”
Discounts are important. Here in the US, communities that host wind farms typically benefit through payments to school districts and other civic needs, but those benefits are shared and secondary. Having a discount show up directly in your own personal utility bill raises the stakes.
“This is amazing news for communities — 9 out of 10 Brits would welcome a wind turbine near them if it cut their bills,” Octopus echoed in response to Gove’s statement.
“We’ll now move rapidly to roll out even more Fan Clubs, and unleash Winder (Tinder for wind), to speed up the development of new onshore wind — providing cheaper energy for communities that want it,” the company added.
The Fan Club Comes To Texas
Octopus first rolled out its Fan Club model in the UK in 2021. Last April, it introduced the platform to Germany, and to its US customers in Texas. Fan Club members get to pay for their electricity based on how much wind is on the grid in real time, with a focus on local wind turbines.
“The Fan Club shows for the first time that people can directly benefit from cheaper bills when the wind is blowing locally and there’s an abundance of green electrons in the grid,” said Octopus Energy Generation CEO Zoisa North-Bond.
In the US, Fan Club members get a 50% discount on their electricity whenever wind turbines account for 45% of electricity on the Texas grid.
Octopus also plans to expand the Fan Club model in other countries. The company recently added seven new onshore wind farms to its European roster covering the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, and Poland. All together, the company has set a goal of 20 gigawatts of renewable energy for Europe by 2030.
Relief For EV Owners In Texas
Meanwhile, in July Octopus launched its “Power to Choose” demand response plan in Texas. The plan provides subscribers with access to the cheapest electricity rates available.
Subscribers need a smart, Wi-Fi enabled thermostat or an electric vehicle to sign up for the discount, under which Octopus estimates a savings at about $360 annually.
That’s great news for electric vehicle owners in Texas, and bad news for members of the Republican-led state legislature who hoped to put a crimp in the electrification movement.
Last year the Texas legislature passed a bill that socks EV owners with a $200 annual charge for registering their zero emission car in the state, on top of an initial $400 registration fee. The bill went into effect this year.
Power to Choose subscribers can easily offset those fees within the first two years, so it looks like Texas legislators will have to go back to the drawing board.
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Photo: Onshore wind turbines courtesy of Octopus Energy.
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