How much is enough?
Anti- renewables campaigners have been making much of the suggestion that we have enough or nearly enough Renewable Energy capacity to meet the 2020 target in Dorset. I maintain that this is false on many levels.
To show why I think it is untrue we have to look at what lies behind this sudden shift of tack. After all it is only very recently that these same antis were saying that Renewables are a waste of time because they hardly ever generate much electricity, could never make a real difference and are only about fat cat industrialists milking subsidies. Now they want to make out that the small amounts of renewable capacity we see around our county is enough to meet our targets. It is true that renewables nationally are making a significant impact. With continuing rapid investment and capacity building we might make our targets.
Where is their data coming from? Some of the most comprehensive data they are using has recently been prepared by Dr Peacock of the Dorset CPRE. His data suggests that if 80% or more of the large scale field mounted PV projects in planning (including several in the most tentative early stages of planning) are approved and built before 2020 then we might reach the 2020 target as interpreted in the Dorset Renewable Energy Plan.
Firstly there is a world of difference between having planning applications in the system and having enough renewable energy capacity on the ground so currently we do not have enough capacity to meet any targets and any anti who claims otherwise is either mistaken or lying. Secondly the list of planning applications includes some very large schemes and some on very sensitive land including one of 220 acres and one 100 acre site not only in the AONB but also on an SSSI. It would seem very unlikely that the CPRE or other groups who have opposed renewables applications in the past would support anywhere near the 80% of the capacity mentioned in Dr Peacock’s submission. I’m not entirely convinced that such schemes are the best way forward and would look to see some pretty convincing Environmental Impact Assessments before giving them my automatic support.
Next is the all-important question of what the Dorset Renewable Energy Plan calls for. I have been critical of the plan since I first read it a couple of years ago. I do not believe that it goes anywhere near far enough in setting targets for renewable energy generation in Dorset. I went as far as to state my opinion at the time that is was more of a NIMBY’s charter than a plan for renewable energy! The way it is being used by anti-renewables groups has proved me right. What is wrong with it? It calls for Dorset to generate 7.5% of its primary energy excluding transport from renewable energy sources cited in Dorset by 2020. Not only is this only half of the 15% target set nationally for 2020 but the exclusion of transport makes it in effect even less than that. The authors of the report envisage the other 7.5% and all the corresponding savings in transport emissions to come from “national” measures. I interpret this as meaning “put it in someone else’s back yard” and would point to the antis’ attitude to the most important national measure in our area as evidence for this interpretation. The measure I refer to is Navitus Bay – the lowest impact scheme for Dorset possible who’s only downside is the same as all offshore schemes in that the cost of the electricity it produces is likely to be about the same as that of nuclear – ie fairly high. Even more important is the fact that the Dorset Renewable Energy Plan, like all the thinking of the antis, appears to regard 2020 as the end of the process. We have been hearing in the last few days about the climate marches and pressure on world leaders to set meaningful targets for carbon reduction not just for the next 6 years but for real progress towards proper sustainability and carbon neutrality by the middle of the century.2020 is only a way marker. If we exceed the target for that date, however it is calculated, then that is a good thing not a mistake. We are still taking the low hanging fruit. Any extra progress we make now will only help us keep up the momentum when things get harder in the next few decades. We certainly should not reject any projects just because we may or may not reach the 2020 target without them.
In conclusion, Renewable energy technologies have proved their potential and are making a real impact but we still have a long way to go. Dorset is trailing badly compared with other counties and needs to get on with building as large a capacity of a mixed bag of renewable technologies as possible. Far from being especially unsuitable for renewable energy generation Dorset has excellent resources and limited pressures on space and demand so we should be doing better than other places not worse.