Renewable electricity capacity in the UK is projected to overtake nuclear power by 2018, if the present rates of growth continue, according to new research. And this clean power will generate enough electricity to power one in every 10 UK homes by 2015.
Currently, the total wind energy capacity is, by itself, up more than a quarter since 2010. 2012 has been a “surprisingly good” year for the renewables industry, in spite of “cooling” government enthusiasm, primarily because of vigorous private investment.
Recently, “more than 100 Tory MPs signed a statement this year opposing new windfarms, and the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, has queried the future of subsidies,” the UK’s Guardian notes. But the renewables industry has continued to vigorously grow, investment in offshore wind has soared by about 60% to £1.5 billion during the last year. Approvals for planned onshore wind farms have also risen considerably, by around 50%, now reaching a record level, according to the trade association Renewable UK.
And even though there has been considerable opposition against wind power from many top Tory MPs, the amount of new onshore wind capacity that was approved last year was the highest since 2008.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of Renewable UK, said: “These strong figures underline the importance of a secure trading climate to attract investment, especially in difficult times. That’s why it’s so important that the framework provided by the energy bill, currently under parliamentary scrutiny, must be right. Although we still have a long way to go to meet our challenging targets, we are firmly on track and gathering momentum.”
The new energy minister, John Hayes, known as a conservative who has in the past been a critic of wind energy, recently told the Guardian that he was “proud” of the UK’s wind power industry. “Investing in cutting edge technology is very British,” he said.
And even though he has in the past opposed wind farms, as long as they are built in “suitable” areas, he now doesn’t object to new ones being built. “It’s about having the support of local people – that is the key thing,” he said. The new coalition government is expected to introduce measures that will allow local communities to benefit more from windfarms. As an example, by getting a financial stake in the revenues of the farms.
The Guardian goes on:
“The energy bill, originally expected to be debated next week, is likely to be delayed until later in November as ministers wrangle over the implications. There is a sharp split within the Tory party over how to treat renewable energy, as more than 100 of the Conservatives’ MPs earlier this year signed a letter opposing new windfarms. Peter Lilley, a vocal climate change sceptic, was appointed to the energy and climate change select committee last week in a move that some saw as an indication of a rightward shift in the government’s climate policy. But David Cameron has in the past said renewable energy would be crucial to the UK’s future prosperity.”
If there are any last-minute changes to the energy bill it could potentially drive away investors. Many major wind turbine manufacturers are waiting to find out more about the country’s future energy policies before constructing new manufacturing plants in the UK.
These are companies such as Siemens, GE, and Mitsubishi, which could inject large amounts of money into local economies, but that won’t risk investment without suitable government policies.
“The repeated insistence from Osborne that the UK’s energy future lies with the gas industry – a new ‘dash for gas’ is under way, with the government clearing the path for 20 new gas-fired power stations – has unsettled renewable energy investors.”
“The constant talk about gas is not reassuring for us,” one major wind investor was quoted as saying off the record.
Last year there were at least 137,000 people employed in the renewable energy sector, and another 654,500 in ancillary industries, according to Renewable UK.