Wind key to economy, says PM

25th May 2012


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  • Generation

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Cameron gives his backing to wind power, as campaigners warn of damage to environment

The prime minister has told policymakers that greater development of the wind energy sector is vital to the UK economy.

In a speech to the UN’s third Clean Energy Ministerial, held in London, David Cameron spoke of the crucial role wind, in particular offshore farms, would play in providing low-carbon energy as well as being an area of industrial growth and job creation.

The UK, he said, had the opportunity to become a world leader in offshore wind and confirmed a further £5 million of government funding to help the sector to cut costs. “We need to make [renewable energy] financially sustainable,” he said.

Solar costs have halved in two years. Onshore wind costs are falling too. And we are stepping up our efforts with industry to bring down the cost of offshore wind. But we can get these costs down further … Mature renewable technologies can be among our cheapest energy sources within years, not decades.”

He announced the creation of a new government–industry initiative to develop a major energy hub in the North Sea, which will see companies such as ScottishPower and Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas collaborating with National Grid to maximise the area’s potential for power generation.

Cameron highlighted new wind energy developments, including EDF’s scheme to build an offshore project near the Isle of Wight powering 600,000 homes, and E.On’s award of a £736 million contract to Balfour Beatty to install cables connecting its Humber Gateway wind farm to the grid.

However, turbine maker Doosan has abandoned its plans to build a £170 million development centre in Glasgow due to poor economic conditions and falling confidence in the sector.

Nonetheless, Cameron’s positive outlook was echoed in figures released by the European Wind Energy Association, which revealed the bloc’s wind sector grew at twice the rate of the EU economy as a whole in 2010, generating €32 billion. In a separate report, the Renewable Energy Association confirmed that in 2010/11 wind power had the greatest turnover of all the renewables sectors, at more than £4 billion and the highest value of exports at nearly £500 million.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) warns that the increasing number of onshore wind turbine developments is “damaging valued landscapes” and that more accountable local development strategies are needed.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, said: “We accept onshore wind in the right places as part of the energy mix required to meet the UK’s CO2 reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations. We must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection.”

The report highlights the growth in the number of large turbines completed, in construction, or awaiting approval in England from 685 in 2009, to 3,442 at the start of 2012, and the trend of siting such developments in remote areas, close to national planning designations.

The CPRE argues that following the revocation of regional spatial strategies, which it says helped to ensure a “landscape-sensitive” distribution of turbines, the government needs to develop a new approach to onshore wind that considers the cumulative impacts of developments and is clearer on the total number of turbines to be built.

Gordon Edge, director of policy at the wind industry body RenewableUK, agreed that protecting the landscape was important, but called the CPRE’s concerns misplaced. “The CPRE claims that more layers of bureaucracy are needed in the planning process, but the current planning system already provides environmental safeguards which are among the most stringent in the world,” he said.

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