The future of offshore wind power generation in the UK is in serious doubt, as the government’s plans to encourage new windfarms are over-expensive and flawed, a new thinktank study has found.
The left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research has found that the government has done too little to attract wind turbine manufacturers to set up in the UK, with the result that only a small proportion of the tens of billions of expected investment in offshore wind will benefit British manufacturers. Consequently, the public subsidy for wind, paid for on energy bills – and which will also run to billions – will reap much less in jobs and benefits to the UK economy than it could have.
Will Straw, associate director at the IPPR, said: “The current policy trajectory could achieve a worst of all worlds outcome – low volume [of energy generated], low jobs and high costs. This would fail our climate challenge, our jobs challenge and our rebalancing [of the economy] challenge. Unless Britain pumps up the volume, there is little prospect of bringing down the costs of offshore wind or creating domestic jobs.”
Last week, David Cameron opened the world’s biggest offshore windfarm, the London Array, in the Thames Estuary. With shallow surrounding seas and a strong wind resource, the UK is regarded as one of the best sites in the world for turbines in the sea.
But the government has refused to put in place a target of decarbonising power generation by 2030, and is opposing European Union plans for an exacting 2030 goal on renewable energy. Renewable energy investors argue that both measures are needed to secure long-term certainty for the fledgling offshore industry.
The IPPR also criticised the government’s apparent lowering of ambition for offshore wind – in 2011, the government set an aspiration of 18GW – amounting to several thousand turbines, potentially – coming from offshore wind by 2020. But that has been revised drastically downwards, with the latest projections from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) showing an expected generation capacity of only 11.5GW by 2020, rising slowly to 16GW by 2030. If such low levels are realised, the chances of the UK meeting its emissions reduction targets are small, according to government advisers, the Committee on Climate Change.