The UK has slashed its greenhouse gas emissions by almost half (42%) since 1990 – faster than any other major developed country. How? Well, by doing a couple of things, the most significant of which is scaling up the role renewable power plays in our energy mix.
If nothing else, these statistics from BEIS’ latest greenhouse gas emissions analysis published this week, are a real testament to the success of the UK’s renewable sector. And furthermore, they remind us of the need to continue to prioritise the decarbonisation of our economy (most notably transport which made up 27% of UK emissions in 2017) as quickly as possible. Sounds simple, right?
And yet. As the UK looks to join the ranks of some of the world’s most progressive nations showing demonstrable leadership on climate change by targeting net zero emissions, on the domestic front, the power sector is facing an onslaught of challenges. Just last month, the third of six planned new nuclear plants – Wylfa - was shelved, leaving a future gap of 9.1GW (or 15% of future electricity demand) in low carbon capacity, in November the future (and potentially even the past!) of the Capacity Market was catapulted onto very uncertain ground and onshore wind, the cheapest form of large-scale low carbon electricity generation, still lacks a route to market.
On this last point, CEN took the opportunity last week to reinvigorate a conversation amongst Conservatives – what is the cheapest source of electricity and do we want it? Alongside Vattenfall and the campaign group 10:10 Climate Action, CEN brought together over 30 Conservative MPs from across Britain, over 100 constituents and supply chain businesses for a long overdue dialogue on the UK’s cheapest, large scale renewable technology – onshore wind. Hearing from the likes of up-and-coming Scottish Conservative MP Luke Graham and CEN’s Parliamentary Caucus member Simon Clarke MP, our successful event pressed home the fact that onshore wind is not only popular (76% of people support onshore wind), but that 61% of Conservatives also want to end the current policies which exclude onshore wind from playing a greater role in the energy mix.
Despite the current challenges that certain other low carbon technologies are facing, decarbonising the power sector doesn't need to be hard. Onshore wind is a real British success story that we as Conservatives should celebrate and capitalise upon, not abandon. Continuing to develop this industry and supply chain will not only lower consumer bills in the long run (according to BVG, onshore wind farms could be built for £45MWh compared to £82/MWh for gas) but pay consumers £1.6 billion over 15 years. If this isn’t reason enough to make you sit up, here’s another.
We’re blessed in Britain to have some of the windiest parts of western Europe – often concentrated in parts of the island with lower levels of investment and economic development, such as Scotland and Wales. BVG Associates’ analysis shows that 86% of the potential future onshore wind development pipeline is located in Scotland and 12% in Wales (with the potential for expansion beyond this should Welsh local infrastructure issues be resolved). Further analysis suggests that a fully developed and functioning onshore wind industry can bring a further 18,500 jobs during peak construction and 8,500 skilled jobs in the long term. Of these jobs, 60% will be in Scotland and 17% in Wales. Parts of the UK that need it the most.
And there is yet more positive news. For those communities who want wind farms, benefits are also realised in the form of direct Community Benefit Funds – more than £15 million was paid to local communities across Scotland in the year to November 2017. Now my maths is not great, but with onshore wind having an operating lifetime of around 25 years multiplying this investment could create a lifetime direct investment in community schemes of £375 million. For any community, that has to be a number that is hard to ignore.
The list of people and organisations calling on the Government to allow onshore wind development in communities that want it grows every day – the NIC, the CCC, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government – to name a few. Surely, highly skilled jobs, cheap energy bills, clean energy and direct investment is something that all Conservatives can get behind.