Kiran Stacey The FT Thanet debate: Chris Huhne on the future of offshore wind

On the day that the UK has officially launched the world’s biggest offshore wind farm at Thanet, off the Kent coast, Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, writes exclusively for Energy Source on why the development means so much to the UK.

But the UK’s commitment to renewables is coming under increasing fire from industry. Jeremy Nicholson of the Energy Intensive Users Group, says the government is over-committed to renewables. You can have your say below.

Chris Huhne on why Thanet
is a “win win”:

We have enormous potential to harness the benefits of renewables in the UK – greater energy security, carbon emission savings and new jobs and economic regeneration for the country.

I’m pleased that we’ve reached the point where 5GW of our energy comes from onshore and offshore wind – that’s enough electricity to power all the homes in Scotland.

Getting these massive structures out here into the sea is a tremendous feat of engineering and I applaud all involved with this awesome achievement.

The UK currently has the third lowest proportion of renewables out of 27 EU states. Yet we are in a unique position to become a world leader in this industry. We are an island nation and I firmly believe we should be harnessing our wind, wave and tidal resources to the maximum.

The challenge facing us is huge: to reduce the potential impacts of climate change and ensure our future energy security by weaning ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels. And we face it as we come out of recession, wrestling with our biggest ever peacetime deficit.

The long term task is nothing less than the transformation of our economy, to put in place the right incentives for low-carbon growth to bring back economic prosperity. In short, we must make the UK the best place in the world to do green energy business.

During that transition we must secure diversity of energy supplies from abroad while making the most of our home-grown energy, including north sea oil and gas.

There can be a role for nuclear, so long as there is no public subsidy, a pledge set out in the coalition agreement and guaranteed by the state of the public finances.

I know that there is still more to do to bring forward the large sums of investment we want to see in low-carbon energy in the UK – £200 billion of investment is needed over the coming decade – and we as a government are committed to playing our part.

But the cheapest way of closing the gap between energy demand and supply is through energy saving measures.  The green deal for households will be established through legislation in the forthcoming Energy Security and Green Economy Bill and will encourage home energy efficiency improvements such as insulation and lagging, paid for by savings from energy bills.

The transition to a low carbon UK will be a mammoth task. Inaction, however, is not an option and the potential rewards for our country are vast.

While Jeremy Nicholson from the Energy Intensive Users
fears it could harm Britain:

Chris Huhne appears to believe that 5GW of our electricity now comes from wind.  This may indeed be true on the occasions when wind is blowing strongly across the whole of the British Isles. But on average, onshore and offshore wind turbines only produce around a quarter to a third of their maximum output respectively – and less than 7 per cent in low wind conditions of the sort experienced last winter. So the one thing wind can never ensure is security of supply.

Perhaps this would matter less if wind was cheap to build and to back up with conventional generation. But offshore wind schemes like the one opened today at Thanet are far from competitive, even before the costs of fossil-fuelled backup are taken into account. They simply would not exist without massive subsidies from the Renewables Obligation – an escalating, hidden tax on consumers’ electricity bills – which government figures suggest will inflate the price of electricity to large industrial users by around 30 per cent by the end of the decade. How is British industry, which is highly exposed to international competition, expected to attract investment when facing cost increases of that magnitude?  And what will the consequences be for fuel poverty?

We need to be more realistic ambitions for renewables generally and offshore wind in particular. We need value for money from energy and climate policy, which means more competition between low carbon technologies – nuclear, renewables and cleaner use of gas and coal – and less micro management from Whitehall. And we need to ensure that British manufacturing can remain competitive so it can contribute to the transformation of our energy infrastructure and avoid replicating the example of Thanet, where 80 per cent of the value went to our competitors.

If we continue to pursue economically inefficient energy and climate policies, favouring expensive offshore wind over cheaper and more secure low carbon alternatives, British consumers will pay a heavy price. The “transition to a low carbon UK” that Chris Huhne speaks of – which we all want to see – will be achieved by reducing growth and outsourcing industrial jobs.  Where is the sense in that?

What do you think? Have your say below.