All UK homes could be powered by offshore wind farms by 2020 as part of the fight against climate change, under plans being unveiled by John Hutton.
Up to 7,000 turbines, two per mile of coast, could be installed to boost wind produced energy 60-fold by 2020.
The business secretary admitted it would change Britain’s coastline, and mean higher electricity bills.
Senior Tory Alan Duncan backed the plans, adding: “We’re an island nation. There’s a lot of wind around.”
In an interview with BBC1’s Politics Show, Mr Hutton said there would have to be a switch to low carbon energy production to combat the threat of climate change.
Coastline ‘will change’
“There is the potential, we believe, out there, using the resources that there are around the UK to generate maybe all of the electricity that households need … from offshore wind sources,” he said.
“We should see whether we can maximise that potential because it’s obviously in the nation’s interest, in the world’s interest, for us to make sure that more of our energy comes from clean sources.”
Just 2% of Britain’s power comes from renewable sources, and wind is the source for less than half a gigawatt.
The government hopes that it could provide around 33 gigawatts by 2020, which would mean introducing some 7,000 turbines.
Pressed on whether having a wind installation every half-mile around the coast was acceptable, Mr Hutton said: “It is going to change our coastline, yes for sure.
“There is no way of making the shift to low carbon technology without making a change and that change being visible to people.
“We’ve got a choice as a country whether we rise to the challenge… or stick our head in the sand and hope it (climate change) goes away. It is not going to go away.”
Asked what would happen if there was no wind for a few days, Mr Hutton said that was why there had to be a mix of energy sources – including nuclear power – to cover for calmer weather periods.
He also said expanding wind power was needed to help ensure the UK becomes self-sufficient in energy: “I do not want in 20 years’ time to find that whether the lights go on in the morning is down to some foreign government or someone else.”
The first tranche of offshore wind farms began in 2001, followed by a second wave two years later in the Thames Estuary, the Greater Wash and the North West.
Some eight gigawatts of capacity could be up and running by 2014, including the one gigawatt London Array, the biggest offshore wind farm in the world.
Mr Hutton will announce the next stage in the expansion of offshore wind power at a conference in Berlin.
He will say this could make a major contribution towards meeting the EU’s target of 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
But Mark Avery, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told BBC Breakfast that care needed to be taken to ensure wildlife was not harmed.
“We do know that if wind farms are put in silly places they can kill lots of birds, they scare off whales and dolphins and fish,” he said.
“They obviously impact the shore of the sea – so it’s just a question of putting them in the right places, not the wrong places.”
Shadow business secretary Mr Duncan said the UK should use its offshore capacity for generating electricity “that’s clean and secure”.
“So yes, I think it’s inevitable and a good thing that there will be more offshore wind.”
Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems’ environment spokesman, said: “This is a welcomed change in tone from the government, but ministers need to pay households to install micro-generators and also invest in big schemes like the Severn Barrage which alone could generate 5% of our electricity needs.”
Friends of the Earth renewable energy campaigner Nick Rau said the potential for wind power was “enormous”.
Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said the plans amounted to a “wind energy revolution” but stressed that premium prices needed to be guaranteed for clean electricity.
Carbon trust chief executive Michael Rea said the plans would “require substantial investment before it can be realised at this scale”.
10 December 2007
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