Clear vision for the future needed, argues environmentalist boss Richard Knox-Johnston

London Array wind farm off the Thanet coast.
London Array wind farm off the Thanet coast.

The London Array wind farm off the cost of Thanet is the world's largest

The UK faces an energy crisis if no action is taken soon, argues Richard Knox-Johnston, chairman of CPRE Kent

For the last 20 years, governments have failed to plan for the situation.

They appear to believe by erecting wind turbines on and off-shore, they will be able to provide all the energy we need. However, power is only generated when there is a wind. There is yet no solution to the storage of the power generated and although research is taking place, no-one has yet been able to solve the challenge.

When the weather is very cold, this often coincides with high pressure and little wind. So the question needs to be asked whether wind turbines can make a serious contribution to our energy concerns. There is also the problem of the effect of turbines on landscape, especially as they are now twice as large as the original turbines.

Solar panels are able to generate power but again only when there is light. The greatest energy need is at night when they will provide little support. Again what about the landscape? There are some sites where the land is not of the highest agricultural value.

Richard Knox Johnston
Richard Knox Johnston

However, the value to agriculture appears to be ignored, as some planning decisions do not appear to take it into account. This is at a time when we have been through a meat scandal and shoppers are beginning to value home-grown products.

We are likely to need all the quality agricultural land available as imported food becomes more expensive.

Then there is nuclear energy. This also has its challenges, such as the safe disposal of atomic waste. A major advantage is it does not produce carbon dioxide and can produce energy 24/7.

However, governments have dallied for too long and have not given sufficiently clear guidelines and support to the energy companies for any of them to commit to building a nuclear power station.

Then there is the latest idea which is fracking. Fracking is where a pipe is drilled into the ground and a water/sand mixture is forced into the cracks in the shale layer to release the gas held there.

This could be a short or long-term solution but as yet no-one, least of all the mining companies, can say with certainty what reserves there are. There is also the concern of further carbon dioxide being produced, although it will be less than is produced by the present coal power stations.

The questions that need to be asked on fracking are: What are the risks? How can these risks be reduced or eliminated? What regulation will need to be in place? How will this regulation be monitored and policed? Most importantly – what will be the effect on the landscape? Are there alternatives to coal, nuclear, wind turbines, and fracking?

It is unlikely that there is a replacement for all four of them. We could, however, consider reducing the overall energy need by ensuring all properties, new and old, are properly insulated. For new properties, what is needed is the changing and tightening of building regulations.

Whatever happens, we need a clear vision for the future and in the meantime, we are likely to see more desperate and ill-considered measures in order to fill the energy gap.

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