Page last updated at 11:41 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 12:41 UK

Green energy hit by 'faceless Nimbys'

Last month, the government announced plans to boost the green energy sector, yet within weeks Vestas UK, the UK's only manufacturer of wind turbine blades, closed its plant on the Isle of Wight. The Report's Simon Cox examines the obstacles which could prevent the government's green rhetoric turning into reality.

Alto Minho wind farm Portugal
Ed Miliband said he was confident "Nimbyism" could be overcome

The closure of the Vestas plant on the Isle of Wight saw workers stage an 18-day sit-in that gained worldwide attention at the very time the government announced a new vision for energy to reduce the UK's carbon footprint.

Some workers said the government should have rescued the plant like it saved failing banks.

But Vestas' vice president Peter Kruse has a clear idea who is responsible for the lack of a viable UK renewable energy market.

"You have some of the best onshore sites on the planet but they are strong, the faceless Nimbys [not in my back yards]," he told The Report.

"Don't blame London, because your government is doing a lot, but if people do not want turbines locally then you can put as many incentives as you want on the table."

The Vestas decision created a dilemma for people on the Isle of Wight as there were those who opposed the siting of wind turbines on the island - projects which might have saved the jobs of the Vestas' workers.

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 20 August at 2000 BST
Or download the podcast.

The local council refused to give planning permission for a wind farm; and John Gallimore, chair of local campaign group Thwart, believed that there were other environmental arguments which deserved an airing.

"I don't think you need to put wind turbines in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just to show there is a market for Vestas blades," he said.

"Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have got the highest level of protection under UK planning law, so I don't think you can ride roughshod over those kind of planning constraints."

Richard Mardon, managing director of Your Energy, one of the UK's largest independent wind farm developers, believes local protest groups around the country are hampering the development of wind power.

Ed Miliband
In 10 years' time people will look back and think, 'gosh, there was a huge fuss about this idea of renewable energy and wind energy but actually it was the right thing to do'
Ed Miliband, Energy Minister

He said the Isle of Wight's council's veto of the wind turbines symbolised the English planning system, where the success rate for getting wind turbine applications approved by English councils was 20 to 50%.

However, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, said he was confident that "Nimbyism" could be overcome.

"I think we are going to be able to say to people, whether it's in relation to offshore or onshore wind power, 'if you want to be a centre for green manufacturing then we have to go ahead with the actual generation of wind power'," he told The Report.

He added: "I actually think people will be persuaded over time and I suspect in 10 years' time people will look back and think, 'gosh, there was a huge fuss about this idea of renewable energy and wind energy but actually it was the right thing to do'."

'Bribes' needed

Other countries in the EU have softened the impact on local communities with cash incentives.

In Portugal, where 15% of power is produced by renewable energy (and they are on target for more than 30% by 2020), local municipal authorities were given a 15% stake in wind power companies and some had sold these shares at large profits, benefiting their communities.

It is this kind of "bribe" that the UK needs to use, according to Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies To Save The Planet.

Alton Minho wind farm, Portugal
Portugal is expected to produce 30% of its power from wind by 2020

"By bribe I do not mean a handout, but improving the local infrastructure for communities where wind turbines are situated. We have done this in the past with the Shetland Isles when we were developing North Sea Oil."

But according to Mr Goodall there is another factor that is restraining the UK's use of renewable energy - we do not think big enough.

He told The Report that the UK could build 5,000 wind turbines in the next year which would have a significant effect on its energy supply but the political will was lacking.

Mr Goodall said the country had lost the vision of the kind of grand engineering projects the Victorians managed.

"We've completely lost it - we've been sucked into writing reports but doing nothing."

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 20 August at 2000 BST. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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