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Renewable energy The north’s future, sector by sector



RENEWABL Obtaining gas by fracking is government policy, despite proposals to drill wells beneath Yorkshire and Lancashire being hotly opposed. Also controversial is the decision to build the Hinkley C nuclear power station with its massive £30bn price tag paid for by electricity bills. But what alternatives are there to meet the UK’s growing energy demands? Roger Ratcliffe asseses five renewable sources



LES ON THE RISE A few weeks ago, Costa Rica proudly announced it was running on 100 per cent renewable energy. The Central American country’s population of 4.3 million – around the same as the combined residents of Greater Manchester and Merseyside – now get most of their electricity from hydro power stations. The switch to non-fossil fuel energy production has been made possible by management of the water supply from high seasonal rainfall. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Iceland, which has a population not much bigger than Bradford’s, has also managed to swear off coal and oil and, like Costa Rica, make the best use of its natural resources. In Iceland’s case these are underground hot springs that provide so-called geothermal energy, piped to most of the country’s homes. But with a vastly greater population, the UK is a long way from being able to wean itself off fossil fuels. So far in 2016, most of our heating and electricity generation has come from gas (42 per cent), with nuclear (23 per cent) and coal (9.6 per cent) being the other main providers. Lagging some way behind

are renewable energy sources such as wind (6.7 per cent), biomass (5.1 per cent), solar (3.9 per cent) and hydro (1.2 per cent). So far, Iceland’s favoured geothermal source does not register on the UK energy graph despite it being available. What is clear is that the UK is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future, to match Costa Rica and Iceland’s commitment to renewable energy. While coal usage continues to decline, the main target for investment seems to be nuclear power. Although the former mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill is reviled by many for dragging the industry into a calamitous year-long strike from which it never recovered, he is credited with one famous observation. Noting that the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher wanted to pursue an energy strategy based on nuclear power, he described her as a “plutonium blonde”. The early signs are that Theresa May might also qualify for that epithet, since her first energy decision as prime minister has been to give the green light to the hugely expensive Hinkley C nuclear plant in Somerset.

Although environmentalists still have grave concerns about nuclear energy, the power stations do not produce CO2. Spending billions on Hinkley C guarantees that nuclear is going to be a big part of the UK’s energy mix far into the future. But how can we replace the 50 per cent of our energy needs currently met by gas and coal? Do we have enough renewable energy sources to produce affordable supplies? Is there adequate sunlight to power the vast solar farms being constructed in Yorkshire and East Anglia? How much energy will stream from the North Sea once the world’s biggest wind farm, covering an area as big as 58,000 football pitches, is completed off East Yorkshire? Would it be economically viable to tap into the natural springs known to exist beneath England, including parts of Cheshire, the Lake District, Lincolnshire and County Durham? And is biomass – see report overleaf – the cleaner heir to coal that it’s claimed to be? All these questions are answered in Big Issue North’s series on renewables energy, first published in the magazine in September 2016.



BIOMASS: THE CLEA Not long ago a trio of coal-fired power stations strung along the M62 east of the A1 gave the area the nickname of Megawatt Valley. Vast cooling towers at Ferrybridge, Eggborough and Drax loomed over the surrounding farmland like man-made volcanoes. Collectively, their chimney stacks emitted more of the greenhouse gas CO2 than some entire countries. Now, Ferrybridge has closed. Eggborough is scheduled for conversion to gas by next March. And Drax, once Europe’s dirtiest power station with a chimney 300ft taller than Blackpool Tower pumping out as much CO2 as a quarter of the UK’s cars, has become the world’s biggest biomass power station. Other coal-fired stations have closed or are converting to gas or biomass, while over a dozen brand new biomass power stations are in the pipeline. Biomass is a fuel feedstock derived from trees and plants. It includes wood chips and sawdust, and what’s left after harvesting a whole range of crops. For example, Drax burns peanut husks imported from plantations in the United States, and pellets of compressed straw

Fuel is derived from trees and plants and other natural byproducts such as peanut husks

CO2 emissions

Smokestack CO2 may be higher using biomass because more fuel is required to generate the same amount of electricity from coal

5.1% The current amount of electricity that comes from biomass but adoption is growing

Transport costs

Shipping biomass fuels from big suppliers in the United States gives it a large carbon footprint


Emissions are said to include particulates – linked to lung cancer and heart disease

Trees take longer to grow than to be cut down and burned. But by classing biofuel as “renewable” it attracts green subsidies

There are currently only eight biomass power stations, but plans are approved for a further nine Coal-fired stations, such as Drax near Goole, have closed or are converting to gas or biomass In the case of Drax, around £1 million a day is received in grants to subsidise the biomass sector




produced by a manufacturing facility at Goole. It also buys a robust grass crop called miscanthus specially grown by Yorkshire farmers. It is ironic that in the 21st century humans are returning, in part, to producing energy from wood, which was used for heating and cooking in the Stone Age more than 12,000 years ago. But while biomass does not yet account for a large proportion of the UK’s power needs, its adoption is growing. Biomass is also increasingly popular as a heating fuel for homes, offices and schools, replacing gas and oil-fired systems.


A decade ago just 1 per cent of the UK’s electricity was generated by burning biomass fuels. That figure had quadrupled by 2012 and this year it may account for 7 per cent of the total. However, the government’s objective of generating 15 per cent of electricity from biomass by 2020 is still a long way off. Currently, eight power stations are burning biomass. In the north, as well as Drax, near Goole, they are located at Blackburn Meadows (Sheffield), Brigg (North Lincolnshire) and Chilton (Co Durham). A further nine have been approved, including Barton (Greater Manchester), Fimber (East Yorkshire) and Houghton Main (Barnsley). Four

others are proposed including sites at Blackburn, Lancashire, and Ferrybridge, North Yorkshire. On a much smaller scale, big landowning organisations like the RSPB and National Trust are starting to turn cleared trees and organic matter into biofuels, which they will sell or use on site. At RSPB wetland reserves, they are trialling the conversion of cut reeds and foliage into briquettes. Even small-scale landscape gardeners are finding there is a business in turning their tree and hedge trimmings into fuel for domestic or school biomass burners. It is still early days, but sacks of biomass pellets at hardware stores, supermarkets and petrol station forecourts may be a common sight in a few years.


Biomass’s green image with environmentalists is now tainted. Smokestack carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from power stations may actually increase, campaigners claim, because compared to coal more fuel is required to generate the same amount of electricity. Also, the transport of biomass fuels from big suppliers in the US gives it a large carbon footprint, while pollutants are said to include particulates, a fine aerosol that penetrates deep into the body and has been linked to lung cancer and heart disease. Environmentalists are critical of the way massive financial help has been given to biomass by the government to help it meet its international CO2 reduction targets. In the case of Drax, around £1 million a day is received in grants. The UK campaign group Biofuelwatch quotes the International Energy Agency’s definition of renewable energy as being “derived from natural processes (eg sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed”. Biomass fails this test, the group says, because trees take longer to grow than they do to be cut down and burned. But by classing

biofuel as “renewable” it attracts green subsides from the government that might otherwise go to cleaner technologies like wind and solar power. Friends of the Earth opposes largescale electricity generation with biomass. The group believes it is better used for generating heat in local schemes.


Not without subsidies. And with massive amounts of public money going into the Hinkley Point C nuclear project the amount of cash available for renewable energy sources is expected to be tightly allocated. However, promotion of biomass central heating systems, whether in homes or schools, offices and industrial units, could lead to the fuel being more widely adopted at local level. A campaign to publicise the availability of government grants, similar to that which has increased the take-up of home insulation, could see a movement away from oil and gas-fired heating systems in rural or urban fringe areas where smoke emissions are unlikely to be an issue.


Yes, although biomass has yet to become widely adopted for home heating and has a long way to go to catch up with solar panels, which are still the principal alternative energy source in UK homes. However, biomass has become the new kid on the block as far as woodburning stoves are concerned, with many woodburning stove companies offering domestic systems, so a growth in home adoption is likely. The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive launched in April last year offers grants to help householders with the purchase price of wood pellet burning boilers. It also applies to schools and businesses. For more information on grants visit For further information on biomass visit RENEWABLE ENERGY BIG ISSUE NORTH


GEOTHERMAL: STEA Back in AD79 the people of Pompeii discovered with tragic consequences just how hot is the earth’s core when its savage power erupts from a volcano. Closer to home, by 2019 the people of the Potteries will find out how that same turbulent energy, simmering two miles beneath their streets, can be used to heat homes and businesses. Next month work begins on Stoke-onTrent’s £52 million project to drill far down into a layer of hot rocks and tap into water that is believed to be more than 105 degrees centigrade. When piped to the surface it will drive what is known as a district heat network, making Stoke one of the UK’s biggest large-scale users of geothermal power. A vast network of pipes on the surface will distribute this energy as either hot water or steam, used to drive turbines and electricity generators, with a potential 10 per cent reduction in heating bills. Importantly, it will be a major breakthrough in the country’s quest for renewable sources of low-carbon energy. Although geothermal sources are available in many parts of the UK, we have – literally – failed to scratch the surface. In 24 other countries, however, hot underground springs are pumped into millions of homes. In California it has been a significant energy source since the 1960s and now has 77 geothermal power stations. In Paris, more than 70 geothermal district heating systems began operating in the 1980s. Geothermal accounts for 87 per cent of Iceland’s heating and generates a quarter of the country’s electricity. A study commissioned by the Renewable Energy Association concludes it is a huge untapped resource in the UK, with the potential to produce one-fifth of our electricity needs, while emitting less than 5 per cent of the carbon produced by conventional coal-fired plants.

heat that has been stored in the ground. It is found at between 40 and 60 feet down and brought to the surface by a heat pump. More uptake of ground source geothermal energy is expected, largely because it is driven by the private sector. In 2014 the government signalled its encouragement of domestic and office usage by greatly increasing the subsidies on offer. As far as deep geothermal sources are concerned, long before Stoke-onTrent’s district heat network scheme, Southampton was the principal exploiter of this form of energy in Britain. A network was successfully developed as long ago as the 1980s, and geothermal aquifers more than a mile deep now

heat many of the city’s larger buildings, including a hospital, university, superstore and more than 300 flats. It is also used to generate electricity – as much as 21 wind turbines can in one year – and currently provides all the power required by Southampton Docks. In Cornwall, there are plans to use geothermal energy to heat the huge greenhouse-like biomes at the Eden Project, with surplus power piped to 4,000 homes in the area. Crewe also has plans to drill for geothermal energy. However, not every scheme has been successful. A recent attempt to exploit it in Newcastle, through a borehole drilled beneath the famous Newcastle Brown Ale brewery, failed when scientists decided the flow rate of hot water was inadequate.


The main type of geothermal energy currently being used in the UK is shallow or ground-source geothermal heat, which is considered a form of solar power because it essentially taps into the sun’s 6


It accounts for 87 per cent of Iceland’s heating and a quarter of electricity. Photo: Shutterstock


Government attitude and lack of cash. Geothermal energy is the poor relation of wind power and biomass, which have received far greater subsidies. The Department of Energy and Climate Change, before it was axed in Theresa May’s summer departmental shake-up and merged with the business portfolio, spent less than £5 million on geothermal over the previous five years, and the plan to drill for hot water beneath Crewe is said to be in doubt through lack of government commitment. There is also a lack of publicity for the benefits of ground source heating in homes and offices.


Yes. We have substantial untapped underground hot water supplies.The country’s geothermal hotspots include Cheshire, Cumbria, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Co Durham. It is estimated that the amount of geothermal energy available in the UK is equivalent to almost nine nuclear power stations and could generate 20 per cent of our annual electricity needs. The government forecasts that the UK will have a substantial energy gap by 2030 and to meet it has largely focused on increasing North Sea gas production and, more recently, has indicated its support for the exploitation of shale gas by fracking. Friends of the Earth supports geothermal energy, and estimates even a modest development of the UK’s resources could replace 2 per cent of fossil fuel gas for domestic heating by 2030. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers believes that 20 per cent of the UK’s total heat demand could come from district heating schemes like the one being developed in Stoke-on-Trent.


Ground source heating is available for homes and offices. Pipes buried in the garden extract heat from the ground and transfer it to radiators, underfloor

heating systems and hot water tanks. However, it is expensive to install. The initial outlay is between £13,000 and £20,000 depending on the size of the building to be heated and whether it is well insulated. Customers are warned to expect their radiators to be less hot to the touch than other fuel sources like gas or oilfired systems. On the plus side, though, it is likely to deliver significant savings if replacing electric or coal-based heating. And you only pay for the electricity used by the heat pump, so fuel bills should be lower. The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme provides some financial assistance towards installing ground source heat pumps.

5% 20%

The carbon emissions of geothermal in relation to conventional coal-fired plants The amount of our annual electricity needs that could be met by geothermal piping underground water


The amount of fossil fuels we could replace with geothermal by 2030

For details of financial help visit For more about geothermal energy: Energy Saving Trust (, Renewable Energy Association (

The main type of geothermal in the UK is shallow or ground-source heat, 40-60 feet down, which is considered a form of solar power

Ground source heating is available for homes and offices. Pipes can be buried in the garden but are expensive to install

The country’s geothermal hotspots include Cheshire, Cumbria, East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Co Durham

It is estimated that the amount of geothermal energy available in the UK is equivalent to almost nine nuclear power stations In Southampton geothermal heats many of the city’s buildings including a hospital and university Far down in a layer of hot rocks is water believed to be more than 105 degrees centigrade



SOLAR POWER: SU The sun is the oldest energy source on earth but generates only 1 per cent of the world’s total electricity Power from UK solar farms has increased by 40 per cent a year since 2000 and a further 200 farms are at various stages of planning Europe’s largest floating solar power system, with 12,000 panels, is earmarked for Manchester

The sun is the oldest energy source on earth, powering plants into life and providing oxygen breathed by the earliest creatures. Today, you can see that same primordial force at work every time you find a butterfly – wings outstretched – soaking up the summer sun’s rays. You can also see man’s flat version of those wings on the roofs of more than 650,000 UK homes. Solar energy is the cleanest and arguably least intrusive form of electricity generation we have, yet until a decade ago it was regarded as little more than a quirky, low-performance heater of domestic hot water popular with Green Party-voting vegetarians. Now, though, the technology has advanced to make possible the construction of industrial-scale solar farms that supporters believe could eventually help to make redundant the burning of fossil fuels and pumping into the atmosphere of the global warming gas CO2. But development is still slow, and

3.9% 81% 65%

The amount of the UK’s electricity produced by solar energy in the first nine months of 2016

The amount of people in the UK that want to see the development of solar energy

How much the feed-in tariff – the financial incentive for domestic solar – was slashed by last year

The total amount of electricity generated by UK householders is a quarter of what it was in early 2015


The Energy Saving Trust estimates the installation of solar systems provides an annual saving of £200 The 800 solar farms in the UK could provide enough energy to power more than 300,000 homes



there remain questions regarding how to make up the energy shortfall during less sunny winter months. Nowhere illustrates the battle line between clean, state-of-the-art renewable energy and old carbon-producing fossil fuels than the A583 Preston New Road on the edge of Blackpool. On one side is the highly controversial site where antifracking campaigners have been fighting to stop a major shale gas development proposed by Cuadrilla. Last week the government accepted the company’s appeal against Lancashire County Council’s decision to turn down the fracking development, paving the way for fracking to begin next year. Directly across the road, however, a huge solar farm is planned that will produce enough electricity to power around 1,300 homes and save the same amount of carbon as emitted by more than 500 cars in a year. The choice between renewable and carbon energy sources is still weighed in favour of the latter, so far as government thinking is concerned. But the more efficient solar technology becomes, the more it will surely be adopted in the next couple of decades.


The global search for renewable energy sources has seen the amount contributed by vast solar farms increase by 40 per cent a year since 2000. That sounds a remarkable rate of growth, but a more telling figure is this – even now the sun generates only 1 per cent of the world’s total electricity. In the UK, the solar sector has been growing at a higher rate, so much so that in the first nine months of 2016 it had contributed 3.9 per cent of our electricity. However, solar still lags behind wind (6.8 per cent) and biomass (5 per cent). Much of our solar generating


A new incentive scheme for household and commercial solar power is urgently required. When introduced in April 2010 the feed-in tariff led to an unprecedented growth in solar energy generation not just domestically but also vast solar farms and smaller community schemes. Greenpeace has criticised the government for going against both public opinion and the economic case for solar power by cutting support. If lowering bills for hard-working families is indeed a priority for the government energy policy, it argues, why are ministers backing the astronomically expensive new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset whilst appearing to ditch far cheaper energy sources like solar energy?

Almost 10 gigawatts of electricity can be produced from the 800 UK solar farms that are active

capacity has been installed in the last five years thanks to government financial incentives and technological advancements. Also, the photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity have become much cheaper to manufacture, and the initial outlay for householders and commercial solar farms has decreased significantly. Currently, the UK has the capacity to generate almost 10 gigawatts from the sun’s rays, mostly from the 800 or so solar farms that are active. That is enough to power more than 300,000 homes. The sector is expected to continue to expand in coming years, with a further 200 solar farms in the UK at various stages of planning and construction. Although the bulk of UK solar farm activity has been in the south of England, the north is starting to become a significant location. The biggest currently under construction is at Godley Reservoir in Greater Manchester, where United Utilities is creating Europe’s largest floating solar power system with

12,000 panels. Other huge solar farms are planned across Lancashire and Yorkshire.


Our climate, for a start. Compared with other European countries, solar energy is never going to be a major provider of clean power in the UK. Our famously overcast weather puts us at a disadvantage. We are an optimistic nation, though, as shown by a recent survey that found that 81 per cent of people in the UK wanted to see the development of solar energy. Despite this public support, though, last year the government cut its feed-in tariff – a financial incentive for domestic solar installations -– by 65 per cent. This has led to the total amount of electricity generated by UK householders being cut to a quarter of what it was in early 2015, and has bankrupted several solar companies. On the face of it, the great expansion of domestic solar energy may be over.


Solar panels began appearing on roofs back in the 1970s and were seen as the cheap, eco-friendly future of energy. It was considered a niche market until about 10 years ago, when big retailers like Currys and then IKEA began selling budget-priced domestic systems. It was claimed that householders could save around £800 a year through reduced bills and feeding their excess electricity into the national grid. However, the Energy Saving Trust which administers government grants for the installation of solar systems estimates the annual saving is more likely to be £200. But since the technology is still evolving, some experts believe the amount of electricity generated by domestic systems can only increase with time. One proposal being investigated is the mimicry of cabbage white butterflies adopting a v-shaped wing posture to maximise the amount of solar energy they capture. Whether councils would allow anything other than flat panels on rooftops is another matter. For more about solar energy visit RENEWABLE ENERGY BIG ISSUE NORTH


HYDROPOWER: WATER, Water power shaped the industrial landscape of the north, and there is no better place to see the strength of it than Hebden Bridge in Calderdale. The town owes its existence to the fast-flowing streams that run off the steep-sided valley. Water power pushed the wheels of weaving mills and, through a series of cogs and belts, drove textile machines. Other great northern towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution – places like Sheffield, Bradford, Oldham, Rochdale and Burnley – were also built to harness the energy of Pennine rivers and streams. These days, mill wheels have been consigned to the heritage business. Water is no longer a major energy source for industry, and where it is used it produces electricity. There are 109 commercialsized hydroelectric power stations in the UK , the vast majority of them in Scotland and Wales where mountains gather and channel the water in sizeable quantities. But so far this year water power has generated just 1.2 per cent of our total electricity supply. Despite the world’s first hydroelectric power scheme being developed 150 years ago at Cragside in Northumberland, the UK now lags behind most other countries. In South America, hydro has become known as “white coal”, and Paraguay gets all its electricity from hydro schemes. Norway is currently Europe’s largest user, with hydro accounting for 85 per cent of its energy. There are four different generating methods. The most popular, and productive, is impoundment – water passing through the bottom half of reservoir or river dams to drive turbines and generators. At Dinorwig in Wales another method called pumped storage is in use, which moves water between reservoirs. A third method, known as run-of-river, simply uses the flow of water from upstream, a hi-tech version of those early mill wheels. The fourth is tidal power – utilising the twice daily rise and fall of seawater – which could provide an exciting new source of hydroelectricity in the UK. 10



Hydro accounts for 1.65 gigawatts of our generating capacity, enough to provide the energy requirements of roughly 450,000 homes, so it’s not surprising that there has been government interest in developing hydropower, especially since the UK is committed to lowering carbon emissions. The boom years were the 1950s and 1960s, however, when most Scottish and Welsh reservoir schemes were built. Recent activity has involved more modest run-of-river generating plants. For example, Hebden Bridge’s history of using water power has been continued, albeit in a far smaller way, through the installation of several hydro projects, making positive use of the fast-flowing streams that have brought devastating floods to Calderdale in recent years. On the other side of the Pennines is another

community project, Torrs Hydro scheme, at New Mills near Stockport. There are many more small schemes across the UK. The biggest run-of-river hydropower plant in England is on the Trent at Beeston, near Nottingham. It supplies enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. A smaller hydro plant is at Franklaw, near Preston, which uses Thirlmere in the Lakes District to drive its turbines. The biggest hydro development on the horizon is the proposed construction of the £1.3 billion Swansea Tidal Lagoon, awaiting the final go-ahead in the next few weeks. As a prototype, its planners hope the lagoon will be followed by five much bigger installations on the coast of Wales and at Workington in Cumbria. If the Swansea lagoon becomes operational, a six-mile breakwater wall housing 16 hydro turbines will provide power for 155,000 homes.

Laggan Dam, Scottish Highlands. Scotland and Wales have the vast majority of hydro schemes


WHAT MORE COULD BE DONE? A clear government energy policy Environmental concerns in sensitive Hydropower accounts for only one-fifth spelling out the direction for hydro landscapes mean we are unlikely to see of the UK’s renewable energy, but despite and other renewable energy sources is the construction of reservoirs and dams being a far more efficient provider than urgently required. Earlier this month the on the scale of 60 years ago. England’s biomass it receives much less financial UK dropped out of the respected World most suitable locations – such as the support. The government’s feed-in Energy Council’s top 10 list of performers Lake District, Peak District and North tariff – an incentive to small projects for because of uncertainty. York Moors – are now popular national generating their own electricity – was parks, and planning consent for major substantially reduced earlier this year, engineering schemes is unlikely. and the British Hydropower Association SMALL SCHEME POTENTIAL? On suitable rivers, there are limitations believes the government’s restoration Community micro hydropower run-ofreflecting recreational use and the needs of this aid is necessary to continue the river schemes are increasingly popular. of wildlife conservation. Rivers that are development of hydro schemes. The basic equipment is very site-specific, ideal for hydropower tend to be popular Our biggest hydroelectricity generating and so prices vary, but start at around with canoeists, while any scheme must potential rests with harnessing tidal £5,000 plus installation costs. To find include fish passes to allow the passage of power, which one study estimates could out more contact the following: British migratory fish like salmon, trout and eel, provide an additional 2 per cent of the Hydropower Association (british-hydro. pushing up the cost. Such considerations UK’s total electricity needs, but it will org) and the Centre for Alternative are essential but it does mean that require huge investment. Technology ( hydropower is likely to be unwelcome on many rivers. The cost of developing tidal lagoons is also an issue. Since the recently announced Hinkley Point nuclear plant in Somerset comes with a £30 billion price tag there are worries The amount of our total electricity the government may be usage supplied from hydropower unwilling to back further this year expensive energy projects. The amount of electricty hydropower Some smaller schemes accounts for in Norway, Europe’s are now less likely to biggest user proceed because of cuts to renewable energy How much of the UK’s total subsidies. Run-of-river Across the UK there are electricity could be provided by hydro plants require a high 109 commercial-sized harnessing tidal power alone initial outlay, although hydroelectric power stations running costs are low and operators can earn Hydro accounts for 1.65 gigawatts Four generating methods for hydropower money by exporting excess of our generating capacity, enough electricity to the national to provide the energy requirements grid. A fairly recent of roughly 450,000 homes concern, following the increased flood incidents Community micro hydropower Impoundment Pumped storage Tidal power Run-of-river over the past decade, is run-of-river schemes are increasingly Water passing Moving water Utilising the Using the flow that damming rivers and popular. Costs start at around through a between rise and fall of of water from streams in low-lying areas £5,000 plus installation reservoir or reservoirs as seawater and upstream and may impede the flow of dam is most in Dinorwig in earmarked for popular for water at times of high common Wales Swansea small schemes rainfall.

1.2% 85% 2%



WIND POWER: SHOO That the UK has become a major user of focus on UK wind power has now moved steady increase in new wind capacity, wind power is obvious to anyone who out to sea. Whether technology advances from a total of 6.5GW in 2011 to 14GW drives across the M62 trans-Pennine can also produce cheaper electricity here today. Much of the future activity will motorway, walks along the Mersey beach remains to be seen. be off the Yorkshire coast, where there at Crosby or spends a day at the seaside is already the 30-turbine Westermost south of Bridlington. Rough windfarm, and (at development Ranks of wind turbines demand WHAT’S HAPPENING? stage) the 240-turbine Hornsea Project attention as they transform the view at Sixty per cent of our wind-generated One, due for completion in 2020. But scores of other locations, many of them electricity supply comes from onshore even larger developments are planned: loathed for their impact on the landscape. turbines, but in the next few years the Hornsea Project Two will be 55 miles Yet windfarms are also celebrated for offshore developments are set to east of the Humber and cover around 200 their role in reducing the need to burn dominate the UK’s windpower sector. In square miles. That’s five times the size fossil fuels like coal and gas, and cutting fact, they will be the biggest growth area of Hull, or 58,000 football pitches. Each our emissions of the global warming gas in renewable energy investment as the of the 300 turbines will be taller than CO2. Despite this love-hate relationship, government strives to meet its target of London’s 590ft-high Gherkin skyscraper. the UK is now the world’s sixth largest generating 20 per cent of our electricity A similarly sized development, Hornsea generator of electricity from wind, a from non-fossil/nuclear sources by 2020. Three, is proposed for the early 2020s. league table headed by China, the US, The past five years have brought a All of this activity promises a jobs Germany, India and Spain. There are 7,000 wind turbines across our hills and around the coast, and their contribution of 14 gigawatts to the The amount of our wind-generated national grid is enough to power electricity from onshore turbines 4.2 million homes. Wind is now bigger than our other renewable energy sources The amount of UK residents that want – biomass, solar, hydro and geothermal the power to veto onshore windfarms – and so far this year it has generated 6.9 per cent of our total electricity The amount of our total electricity requirements. However, the requirements provided by wind this year metaphor “as free as the wind” does not seem to apply to wind power so far as Wind capacity has more than doubled from offshore windfarms are a total of 6.5GW in 2011 to 14GW today concerned. The cost of producing energy from 7,000 wind turbines contribute enough the increasing number electricity to power 4.2 million homes of turbines at sea has risen because of the Labour claims that 1,000 onshore projects huge sums involved in could be affected by subsidy withdrawal building and servicing them. It is estimated that those already in operation have added £18 to the average annual electricity bill. Project One Project Two Project Three By comparison, onshore windfarms Due in 2020 Will be 55 miles 300 turbines like those that now bristle across the 240 turbines east of the taller than Pennine moors are said to produce the will stand off Humber and the Gherkin, cheapest energy not only in the UK but the windy five times the earmarked for worldwide. This is due to increased Hull coast size of Hull the early 2020s power generation thanks to improved gear boxes and hi-tech blades. But because of local opposition to them the







OTING THE BREEZE bonanza for Hull, where the engineering group Siemens has established a wind turbine factory called Green Port Hull at the city’s Alexandra Dock, and for Grimsby, where the Hornsea Project owner Dong Energy plans to create the UK’s largest offshore operations and maintenance hub. Meanwhile, the devolved Scottish government continues to be a major backer of onshore wind power, and currently under construction is the 96-turbine Kilgallioch Windfarm in South Ayrshire.


Onshore wind turbines would be more widespread across the UK but for public opposition to their visual impact and concerns about noise. Technological improvements have slashed costs, making wind power one of the cheapest forms of energy. However, the new turbines are significantly larger, towering above the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, so that their rotor blades can capture more of the wind current. Companies believe the government has surrendered to nimbyism in order to move future windfarm development offshore away from Conservative-voting constituencies. Certainly, the government ended subsidies to onshore windfarms in April this year as part of a reversal of aid for green energy. But since an opinion poll showed that two-thirds of UK residents want the power to veto windfarms it may be a vote-catching move. Labour has indicated support for onshore wind developments, and claims that 1,000 onshore projects could be affected by the withdrawal of subsidies. Earlier this year it was announced that the allocation of subsidies for offshore windfarms has been put on hold until 2017 by the new Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Department. This may delay work on the Hornsea Project developments off the Humber. Visual impact at sea is not an issue,

but fears about migratory birds colliding with rotors have been raised by studies in Denmark. So far, though, no windfarm project has been rejected because of this.


Unless there is mass hypnosis of communities to make them love the sight of onshore windfarms towering over their favourite landscapes, it seems the future of wind power as far as England is concerned lies at sea. Therefore, quick answers are required to questions about the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU, since the main players in the colossal offshore wind farms planned for the North Sea, using turbines constructed in Hull, are German and Danish. The government also needs to restore confidence to the onshore windfarm companies, which generate cheaper electricity than their offshore counterparts.


The short answer is, maybe. Firstly, a windy location is required, which makes many parts of northern England very suitable. Secondly, they require planning permission, and if you have close neighbours they may object if they consider it visually intrusive or a potential source of noise. There are two types of home wind turbine: ones that can be mounted on the roof and those supported by a mast. Both produce electricity to use immediately or store in batteries. You can also sell excess power to the national grid and make money. Costs can vary from up to £3,000 for a roof-mounted rotor to between £10,000 and £30,000 for a pole-mounted wind turbine. For more information visit

Offshore wind farms cost more but are preffered by the public as they are not an eyesore


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Big Issue North - Renewable Energy Report  

Obtaining gas by fracking is government policy, despite proposals to drill wells beneath Yorkshire and Lancashire being hotly opposed. Also...

Big Issue North - Renewable Energy Report  

Obtaining gas by fracking is government policy, despite proposals to drill wells beneath Yorkshire and Lancashire being hotly opposed. Also...