Monday, 10 December 2007

In a spin over wind power

What is it about this government that even when they're trying to do something right, they still get things wrong?

Take for instance today's announcement about wind power. As someone who thinks the UK could be doing far more to move down the road towards renewable energy, you might expect me to welcome the government's commitment to generating all electricity for domestic use from offshore wind farms by 2020. And, insofar as it goes, it is good.

But scratch beneath the surface and you soon find that it's the same old Labour bluster and spin. For a start, by announcing the proposals first in the media and then at a European energy conference in Berlin, John Hutton broke the pledge which Gordon Brown gave when he took over to make major announcements to Parliament first. That happens very frequently now, but it's still worth pointing out when it occurs.

And turning to the substance of the issue itself, the government's announcement is as hollow as it could possibly be. For a start, the 2020 ambition doesn't even seem to have the firm status of being a target, but is rather more of a hope or aspiration. But without additional government support or guaranteed supply contracts for energy firms wishing to build offshore wind farms, it's very difficult to see how those 7,000 new turbines are going to be built by 2020.

Furthermore, if it's to have any credibility, the government should really be looking at renewable energy sources as a whole, not just putting all its eggs into the offshore wind energy basket. For instance, why is there no mention of wave and tidal energy? Companies like the Inverness-based Wavegen are developing this technology and surely it would be sensible to consider this at the same time as promoting offshore wind farms, especially given the advantage which wave energy has of being permanently available, unlike wind power. And what of solar or geothermal power? I don't see any mention of what contribution they could make in today's announcement.

In his response to today's announcement, Lib Dem environment spokesman and leadership contender Chris Huhne was surely correct to highlight that projects like a Severn barrage could play a big role in generating clean energy, and also to say that there should be greater support for micro-generation in the form of a high feed-in tariff when exporting power to the national grid, as they have in Germany. In addition, the government has to make much greater efforts to promote energy conservation.

Unless it is prepared to take steps like that, then the government stands very little chance of meeting its shiny new renewable electricity target by 2020. In the absence of any firm commitments, we can suspect that this is just another example of spin from a government which is more concerned about being seen to take action on climate change rather than actually taking the decisions needed.

1 comment:

The Tory Troll said...

An imperitive for any government that does not want a revolution or to be swiftly booted out of office is to ensure that its citizens have access to energy at bare minimum for heat and light. Any switch to renewables has to factor this in and avoid energy shortfalls so I would imagine the government's announcement has been made with this in mind.

Wind power is more mature than wave power and so has the better chance (from current perspectives) of 'keeping the lights on.' I think you'll find that most wave projects are still in their development stages hence the emphasis on something that works as opposed to something more risky.

Geothermal energy is a good idea and one reason why places like Iceland, Hawaii and New Zealand will be economic powerhouses in the distant future. Those of us not so close to tectonic fault zones will not be so lucky though. And biomass fuels will take up most of our food growing areas so we will be able to feel virtuous and warm as we starve.

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