The energy crunch and Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine have shown the danger of relying heavily on fossil fuels. Using gas and oil contributes to climate change, but volatile global markets also set their price under the malign influence of the Kremlin.
The North Sea's oil and gas industry once powered our nation and made us a net energy exporter, but it is now a mature basin. This means it is increasingly becoming more expensive to extract fossil fuels from beneath the sea, and our remaining reserves will not last forever. For the last twenty years, we have grown increasingly reliant on imported energy, despite seven years of a 'maximum economic recovery' policy.
There's no way back to energy sovereignty through fossil fuels alone. But we have another tremendous resource in abundance off our coast that can propel our nation into the future - offshore wind power. As an island nation, we can harness our windy seas to generate the electricity we need and even export power to our neighbours via interconnectors when there is a surplus.
Between 2009 and 2020, the amount of electricity the UK generated from wind power increased by 715 per cent. At the same time, the cost of building offshore wind plummeted by almost three-quarters, making new wind farms four times cheaper than gas production.
Nowhere can you better see the transformation than on the East Anglian coast. Over half of the UK's current installed offshore fleet capacity is along the east of England's coastline. Because of the region's growing offshore wind sector, the potential of hydrogen energy and the Sizewell C nuclear power station, it will soon be the country's powerhouse.
We are already benefiting from offshore wind power. Because the UK introduced the Contracts for Difference scheme in 2014, we are not as reliant on gas for our electricity as other nations. The scheme gave energy firms the confidence to invest in renewables because it guaranteed a price for electricity generated by new projects for 15 years using an auction. It's why renewables now provide 43 per cent of electricity, compared to just 7 per cent in 2010.
Our thriving offshore wind sector is already partly shielding us from the energy crunch. Projects under Contracts for Difference have paid back £240 million to energy suppliers since last October. But until we end our reliance on fossil fuels and insulate the nearly 19 million energy-inefficient homes in the UK, we will continue to be uniquely exposed to future energy crises.
The government's decision to set a higher target of 50 gigawatts in its British Energy Security Strategy will lower people's bills in the long term. It will also unlock investment and create almost 100,000 skilled jobs in places like Lowestoft - its port is already seeing a renaissance in its port thanks to the industry. In the face of this crisis, we must double down on building offshore wind to revive our coastal communities, achieve net zero, and become an energy exporter again.
First published by the House Magazine. Peter Aldous MP (Waveney) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.