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UK plans big wind power expansion

Thousands of new wind turbines could be built across the UK over the coming decade as part of a £100bn plan to boost renewable energy.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the UK should be a leader in renewable energy.

But he warned it would not come from “business as usual” and he called for a national debate on achieving the UK’s target of 15% renewable energy by 2020.

The Tories said “at last” Labour was coming round to “our vision”. The Lib Dems say Labour fails to deliver.

In a speech earlier, Mr Brown said the government’s plans represented the “most dramatic change in our energy policy since the advent of nuclear power”.

“The North Sea has now passed its peak of oil and gas supply – but it will now embark on a new transformation into the global centre of the offshore wind industry.

“And yes, there will have to be more windfarms onshore too.”

‘Inevitable’ changes

Under the government’s plans an extra 4,000 onshore and 3,000 offshore turbines will be needed, impacting on communities, business and the government.

Ministers say visible changes to landscapes, towns and cities are “inevitable” but in his speech Mr Brown promised local communities wind turbines would be sited in the “right” locations.

“Increasing our renewable energy sources in these ways, on this scale, will require national purpose and a shared national endeavour.

“So today I want to launch a serious national debate about how we are to achieve our targets.”

He promised up to 160,000 new jobs through promoting more renewable energy, including making components for wind turbines and electric cabling.

‘New social organisation’

But he said a low carbon economy – which met EU reduction targets – “will not emerge from ‘business as usual’.”

“It will require real leadership from government – being prepared to make hard decisions on planning or on tax for example, rather tacking and changing according to the polls.

“It will involve new forms of economic activity and social organisation.”

Up to half of the government’s carbon reduction target will have to come from electricity, meaning a third will have to be generated from renewables by 2020.

Moves to speed up the connection of renewable energy projects to the national grid are also expected to be announced to help clear a huge backlog of proposed developments.

The UK could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20% and reduce its dependency on oil by 7% within 12 years, the government says.

‘Fundamental problem’

Household bills are expected to increase as a result of the measures, but any impact is unlikely to be felt until later in the next decade.

Greenpeace hailed the new strategy as “visionary”, but the environment group warned that ministers had promised much before and had so far failed to deliver.

The Liberal Democrats poured scorn on Mr Brown’s talk of a “green revolution”.

The party’s environment spokesman Steve Webb said: “The fundamental problem is that Brown doesn’t do ‘green’.

“He would rather urge oil producers to extract more oil than invest in technologies that will actually save CO2 emissions now.

“When the government has failed so lamentably to take a political lead in the last 11 years, why should we believe the coming years will be any different?”

For the Conservatives, shadow business secretary Alan Duncan said: “After a series of painful and reluctant u-turns, it seems like the government is at last coming round to our vision of a greener Britain.

“Yet it’s astonishing that what is billed as a ‘strategy’ is just another consultation – more delays after a decade of dithering.

“Gordon Brown must now translate these words into action. If we don’t grasp this opportunity now, we’ll still be playing catch-up in 20 years.”

June 26, 2008