Anti-wind campaigners are also highly selective. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, obsessed by windfarms, says nothing about the opencast coalmines ripping south Wales apart. Nor do you hear a word about the destruction of the ecosystems of upland Wales (and England and Scotland) by sheep grazing. These champions of the countryside want to save it from only one threat.
For all that, it’s a real one. While the windfarms themselves divide communities, everyone hates the new power lines required to connect them to the grid. From his home in mid-Wales, Monbiot claims that he gas yet to meet anyone who will speak up in favour of them. Because they have to march across so much countryside, their visual impact is greater per pound of investment than that of any other technology.
As the government’s Committee on Climate Change reports, large onshore windfarms are “already close to competitive” with burning natural gas, and are likely to get there by 2020. They are the cheapest renewable sources in this country by a long way. Offshore wind costs roughly twice as much, and its costs have been escalating. After attacking the high cost of wind power, Jenkins argued that we should instead invest in “sun and waves”. The committee shows that while the expected price of electricity from onshore wind in 2030 is between 7 and 8.5 pence per kilowatt hour, solar power is expected to come in at between 11 and 25p, and wave between 15 and 31p. Talk about no concern for cost!
Monbiot points out that the cheapest low carbon option, the committee says, is nuclear power, at 5-10p. But, because of public objections, new plants are likely to be confined to existing sites, which means a maximum of about 20 gigawatts (a quarter of our current power capacity). So this is where the United Kingdom stands. We cannot keep burning fossil fuels without cooking the biosphere. We don’t like nuclear power. We don’t like onshore wind. We won’t like the costs of the other technologies. We reject all the means by which electricity is generated. Yet no one is volunteering to stop using it.
According to what Monbiot reports, this seems like an argument that will run and run and the eventual outcome is difficult to predict. We need renewable energy, but it seems we are largely unwilling to make any concessions to secure our future. Clearly something has to give!