In the next 12 years, 7,000 wind turbines will spring up across the hills and around the coasts of Britain, in a £60bn renewable energy programme outlined by Gordon Brown.
They will be the highly visible symbols of what the Prime Minister called “the most drastic change in our energy policy since the advent of nuclear power” – a shift to producing at least a third of UK electricity from carbon-free renewable sources, compared to under 5 per cent today.
The aim, set out in a consultation document that will lead to a formal new strategy, is to cut down the greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power stations that are causing climate change, reduce Britain’s reliance on foreign energy supplies, and meet the demanding climate target agreed by EU leaders last year, of providing 20 per cent of Europe’s total energy use from renewable sources by 2020.
Britain’s share of this works out at a 15 per cent renewable energy target, split between electricity, heating and transport, with electricity bearing the lion’s share: between 30 and 35 per cent of UK power will need to be renewable by the target date, compared with 4.5 per cent today.
The investment programme and timetable needed to achieve this in a mere 12 years are demanding, and comment was split yesterday between environmentalists and renewable energy suppliers, who were delighted, and more cautious commentators who questioned whether such a technical undertaking was possible in the time scale.
For example, hitting the targets means at least trebling the current scale of wind-farm construction, adding 4,000 more onshore turbines to the 2,000 already in place, and installing 3,000 turbines in the sea, at a rate of two every three days between now and 2020, Christmas and bank holidays not excepted. Questions were raised as to whether or not Britain has the manufacturing capacity, or the number of engineers necessary to carry out the installations.
The Government said it could be done. John Hutton, (ultimately responsible for energy) and the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, all affirmed their commitment to meet the targets, while accepting how challenging they were.
The commitment comes from the top. It was clear from his speech yesterday that after a long time being at best lukewarm about renewable energy, Mr Brown has himself undergone a damascene conversion to the real merits of the wind turbine and its related technologies.
There are two reasons for this. One is the new concern about security of Britain’s energy supplies, thrust into sharp focus by the soaring oil price in the past six months, which Mr Brown reminded the country was worse than the two oil shocks of the 1970s. Britain needs to kick its coal, oil and gas habit, and Mr Brown reminded everyone that he also feels nuclear power sits alongside renewables as the way to do this.
The other is the realisation that the development of low-carbon energy technology, which is taking off across the world, represents a potential employment bonanza for Britain. Calling it “a green revolution in the making,” Mr Brown said it could provide 160,000 new jobs.
Suddenly, jobs and a stable economy, with which Mr Brown has always concerned himself, fit into the scheme of things alongside helping the environment – and they all go forward as one package.
“If the Government actually means it this time, then Britain will become a better, safer and more prosperous country,” said Greenpeace’s executive director, John Sauven. “We could create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use less gas, and in the long run our power bills will come down. But it won’t happen without real government action.”
60,000,000,000 Cost in pounds of Gordon Brown’s renewable energy plan
160,000 Number of jobs the Government claims will be created
Blueprint for the future
* Britain will source 15 per cent of energy use from renewables by 2020 (compared to 1.5 per cent today).
* Renewably-sourced electricity will rise to about 35 per cent (4.5 per cent today).
* Heat produced by biomass burning, solar power and heat pumps will be 14 per cent of demand (0.6 per cent today).
* Renewable transport fuels – biofuels – may play a part but must be sustainable.
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
27 June 2008
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