The Conservative Party has promised to deny subsidy for onshore windfarms not already granted planning permission. This policy would come into effect in the unlikely event that the Conservatives win next year’s election outright. Moreover, future planning applications for wind turbines will be under the sole discretion of local authorities, rather than central government under “nationally significant infrastructure” rules. Given that virtually all power stations built in the UK have direct or implicit subsidy, and can often be inflicted on local councils against their will, this marks a strongly anti-renewables bias in energy policy.
There is zero prospect that Tory-dominated councils in the “Shires”, which make up most of Britain’s landmass, will approve.any major windfarm under the proposed system. Much though the ‘greener’ councils might be keen to support renewable projects, it’s hard to see hundreds of turbines being built in Islington or Brighton and Hove. Consequently, there will be very little further increase in wind energy beyond the previously planned projects that will carry Britain to its statutory 2020 renewable energy target.
It’s clear that the Conservatives, as their Lib Dem collaborators have alleged, are pandering to the right-wing “provincial” nimbies who have migrated to UKIP. Lib Dem and Labour silence on the urgent need for more renewable energy now and into the future shows that once more, the political class is failing to act in the long-term interests of the country. It’s hard to blame them entirely, though, representative democracy is such that, if voters are more concerned about the “unspoiled” view from the outskirts of their village than their country’s energy security and the world’s collective interest, then their MP will probably feel the need to represent that view.
But the country expects leadership as well as representation from its government. Take the case of the budget deficit: David Cameron talks of the importance of perusing brutal and unpopular spending cuts for the “benefit” of future generations by keeping the National Debt to a minimum. The political Establishment easily mustered the “courage” to inform the public that existing levels of government spending were unsustainable. Why can’t they do the same with our current, ecologically unsound lifestyle and, for that matter, tax rates that are far below levels that correspond with the provision of a functioning NHS?
The Conservatives contradict their stated aims of “strong leadership” and “prudence” by undermining the development of renewable energy projects. It would be disappointing, but few of us expect our political leaders to shape public opinion. Democracy demands that voters have choice, but that’s not what leaders who fixate on opinion polls and focus groups offer us.