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Britain to miss renewable energy targets

Britain is set to miss its own renewable energy target and will also fail to meet European Union requirements unless it steps up action substantially, a parliamentary report said on Thursday.

The government has committed to getting 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Under an EU deal last year, it will have to quadruple that a decade later.

Today, Britain gets less than five percent of its electricity from renewables, mainly wind. And despite many positive words, a combination of planning restrictions and rising material prices makes it unlikely it will be doubled in just two years.

“We have been consistently disappointed by the lack of urgency expressed by the government – and at times by the electricity industry – in relation to the challenge ahead,” said Phil Willis, head of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills select committee.

“We find it highly unlikely that given the current progress the UK will meet the government’s ambition for 10 percent of electricity to be generated from renewables by 2010, let alone sufficient electricity to meet the EC mandated renewable energy target for 2020.”

EU environment ministers agreed in March last year that the 27-nation bloc had to get 20 percent of its energy from renewables like wind, solar, waves and biomass by 2020.

In January this year it allocated national targets to achieve this general total. Britain, which has been trying to negotiate its share downwards, was told it would have to get 15 percent of its energy from renewables.

Because electricity is the biggest single component of energy consumption, Britain’s EU target is equivalent to getting about 40 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Supporters of wind, the most mature of the country’s renewables industries, say the target is hard, but possible and pricey. With onshore wind at or close to capacity any major future expansion must be offshore, where costs are double.

There is also a question of availability, with a need to construct and connect another 5,000 wind turbines over the next 12 years at a time when global demand for them is booming, causing supply bottlenecks and price rises.

The government has announced it is opening up vast new areas of the seabed around the coast for windfarm development and is also changing the law to make planning applications for major infrastructure projects far smoother.

But the wind industry complains that it can still take a decade for a windfarm to get permission to link up to the national grid.

“It is immensely frustrating that on the one hand the government is encouraging the deployment of renewable technologies, but that, on the other, these technologies are unable to commence electricity generation due to a poorly conceived transmission access regime,” Willis said.

The all-party committee also said the government, which has voiced strong support for new nuclear power to cut carbon emissions and increase energy security, must ensure it did not drain resources from renewables.

By Jeremy Lovell

(Editing by Caroline Drees)


19 June 2008