Britain should stop building expensive offshore wind farms, energy giant Centrica has said, claiming that billpayers could be saved £96bn by 2030 if ministers pursued a cheaper green strategy.
The British Gas owner – whose chief executive Sam Laidlaw is preparing to step down after eight years – on Wednesday took the unusual step of issuing its own manifesto for how to solve Britain’s energy crisis, claiming its plans were three times cheaper than Government’s.
Mr Laidlaw, whose exit and replacement by BP executive Iain Conn is expected to be confirmed as soon as next week, is said to have grown tired of taking the flak for rising energy bills.
The report, which points the finger of blame at Government for backing expensive green technologies, offers a “more affordable pathway to a lower-carbon future”, Mr Laidlaw said.
It advocates building no more offshore wind farms, which it calls “an expensive option that may not be needed”, stopping solar panel deployment, “since it generates no output at times of peak demand” and restricting use of expensive solid wall insulation for homes.
Instead it backs gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants. It claims the plan would save consumers £100 a year by 2030, compared with the Government’s strategy, while still hitting 2050 carbon targets.
But the manifesto would involve Britain failing to meet its legally-binding EU target for renewable energy generation by 2020, and would also involve weakening green targets for the late 2020s.
One Whitehall source dismissed the report, saying: “Centrica ignores legally binding targets that are not going to go away.”
Peter Atherton, of Liberum Capital, said Centrica had entered the debate on policy “at least five years late” having previously supported policies such as offshore wind “as that suited their short term profit outlook”.
Centrica last year sold its interest in the proposed Race Bank offshore wind farm after deciding subsidies were inadequate, and hopes now to build gas-fired power plants.
Sophie Neuburg, of Friends of the Earth, said the report was “cynical” and served Centrica’s own interests. She said it was “ridiculous” to stop building offshore wind when it was not clear if CCS would work.
Joss Garman, of think-tank IPPR said: “Centrica’s proposals could fatally damage the UK’s efforts to reduce harmful carbon pollution because they directly contradict the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change to introduce a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector. To regain the trust of consumers and bring down costs, Centrica needs to embrace new technologies and be part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.”
The energy department said it was working to “ensure the UK’s energy security and achieve our carbon targets in the most cost effective way possible”.
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