BT yesterday joined the battle for environmentally conscious customers with plans to launch a wind farm scheme aimed at generating a quarter of its electricity by 2016.
The telecoms giant is in talks with investors and renewable energy partners about raising £250 million to build 120 wind turbines on sites across Britain.
The group has already applied for planning permission for three sites in Cornwall, Orkney and Shetland and is weighing up other suitable sites on its own or adjacent land.
As eco-friendliness becomes universally accepted as a worthy cause, companies are jostling to prove their green credentials and tap into the lucrative market for associated products. The telecoms giant is the latest in a series of blue-chips seeking to position itself as a champion of the environment.
BT insisted that, as well as displaying responsibility to the environment such a move also made good business sense. Potential clients, particularly government departments, frequently consider a company’s green credentials as part of a contract bidding process, it said. The group grills its own potential suppliers on their eco-friendliness too, it said.
Although funding and third-party partners are not yet in place, BT said that it felt compelled to unveil its plans rather than worry local communities by appearing furtive.
Under the project, pioneered by Hanif Lalani, the BT finance director, up to £250 million is to be raised to fund the acquisition and building of the necessary equipment. Investors in the project will “own” the energy but will have a guarantee from BT that it will buy it back from them.
BT is one of Britain’s biggest consumers of electricity with an annual requirement of about 0.7 per cent of the UK’s entire consumption.
The group estimates that its wind farms could generate a total of 250 megawatts of electricity – 25 per cent of its existing requirements – by 2016. It claims that this would prevent the release of 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year compared with coal-fired power generation.
The wind farm project forms part of wider efforts by the group to reduce by 80 per cent its carbon emissions by 2016 compared with 1996.
The group’s claims are expected to be closely scrutinised by the green lobby. The Advertising Standards Authority recently warned companies about too easily associating their products with “buzz” phrases such as “carbon offsetting” and “carbon neutral” without providing evidence to back up their claims.
The warning followed a flurry of complaints about unsubstantiated environmental boasts by some of the world’s best-known companies, including Toyota, Volkswagen and Scottish & Southern Energy, BT already boasts of having Britain’s biggest “green” electricity contract. It recently renewed a three-year deal with npower and British Gas, under which they provide BT with electricity from renewable sources such as wind and hydroelectric projects. The company claims to have already reduced emissions by 60 per cent through the deal, as well as through other measures such as using diesel vehicles and energy-efficient buildings.
The group said it had many suitable sites for wind farms which currently contain only radio masts and are not close to residential areas.
According to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), dozens of large companies in the UK are considering building their own turbines. However, the slowness of the planning process means that demand exceeds supply and there is a shortage of “green power” for big business.
Factories are sprouting windmills to cut energy costs and burnish green credentials.
—Ford led the way in 2004, building two turbines at its Dagenham plant in London. They generate enough power to supply 2,013 homes
—Nissan followed in 2005 with six turbines at its Sunderland factory. It is expected to unveil a bigger project soon
—Michelin, the tyre maker, has two turbines at its Dundee facility
—Pirrelli has planning permission for turbines at its factory in Carlisle
By Elizabeth Judge and David Robertson
19 October 2007
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