The government was accused yesterday of unveiling plans for a significant expansion of offshore wind power that were very similar to an announcement it made five years ago.
Industry secretary John Hutton announced in Berlin that Britain wanted to expand offshore wind power to provide about a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2020. This would mark a big increase from the current level of less than 1%.
Five years ago the then energy minister, Brian Wilson, announced that vast areas of shallow sea around Britain would be earmarked for an expansion of wind power that theoretically could power Britain three times over.
Tory shadow industry secretary Alan Duncan accused Hutton of “rushing out a rehashed proposal announced five years ago” in response to a Guardian report that the government was trying to scupper an EU renewable energy target. “The government’s dithering energy policy is holding up investment and jeopardising our future energy security,” he said. “We need to see the real spin of wind turbines not the fake spin of Gordon Brown.”
But last night Hutton insisted that his plans were the latest phase of a process that began in 2002. “[It is] the green light for the next stage of development of off-shore wind for the UK,” he said.
Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solarcentury, said: “This latest recycled announcement fits the pattern I saw during four years serving on the government’s Renewables Advisory Board, which felt like watching several dozen episodes of Yes Minister in slow motion. I do not think this government has ever been serious about renewables, and I strongly suspect that officials have consciously held them back to make space for the failed and dangerous technology that is nuclear.”
Britain has about two gigawatts of installed wind power, mostly onshore, with at least another 7gW in the planning process. The government’s forthcoming energy white paper will increase the subsidies to offshore wind, which struggles to compete with much cheaper onshore production, by 50% from 2009. The government’s plans announced yesterday would give Britain 33gW of offshore wind power by 2020. Germany, by contrast, has 22gW and Spain 12gW with a target of 40gW.
Dan Lewis, research director at the Economic Research Council, said: “According to the world offshore wind report 2008-2012, published a week ago, only 4.5gW will be installed in the whole world over that period. Maybe the government should have paid attention to the supply constraints the report highlights before it takes a stand on something it can’t possibly deliver.
“The government is deluding itself on a grand scale. There will be no race by investors to build offshore wind farms – the returns are just not high enough and there are supply-chain constraints in installation vessel capability and insufficient turbines.”
“Thirty-three gigawatts by 2020 is pie in the sky,” said Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association. “We think 20gW is ambitious but achievable.”
By Ashley Seager
11 December 2007
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