Report calls for offshore wind investment

4 December 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Large-scale investment in offshore wind would generate more wealth for the economy and create more jobs than relying on gas-fired power plants, a report has suggested.

Substantial deployment of offshore wind by 2030 would have only a marginal impact on electricity prices but would boost growth, cut dependence on gas imports and reduce emissions, the report for WWF-UK and Greenpeace said.

The study by Cambridge Econometrics compared a scenario with steady growth in offshore wind capacity in the 2020s with a power system where there was no new offshore wind post-2020, with significantly more gas used to meet electricity needs.

Focusing investment on wind power would create up to 70,000 more jobs in 2030 than relying on electricity from gas-fired power plants.

According to the analysis, which comes ahead of the government publishing its gas strategy, GDP would be £20 billion (0.8 per cent) higher in 2030 if there was a focus on offshore wind.

The study suggests electricity prices would only be 1 per cent higher if the UK relied heavily on offshore wind, as gas import prices are forecast to rise and the costs of offshore wind to fall as deployment is scaled up.

Carbon emissions would be two-thirds lower with large-scale investment in offshore wind than if the UK stuck with gas for electricity supplies and the country would save £8 billion a year on gas imports by 2030.

The benefits to the economy from investing in wind still outweigh focusing on gas, even if gas prices are lower than expected and even if a significant supply chain does not develop in the UK, the report claims.

Exploiting unconventional shale gas through "fracking" will have little impact as it would be a benefit to the economy in both scenarios, used either as a domestic gas supply or exported if the UK was relying more on wind, the report said.

Environmental groups have been critical of Chancellor George Osborne's backing for a second "dash for gas" over driving low carbon investment, with support for new gas-fired power plants and tax relief for unconventional shale gas exploration in the UK.

They warn that failing to include a target to slash emissions from the power sector by 2030 in the recently-published Energy Bill will undermine investment in renewables after 2020, after which time support for low carbon power is unclear.

WWF-UK and Greenpeace warned that the failure by the government to provide certainty for investors is likely to undermine decisions to invest in the renewables supply chain in the UK and the jobs and economic benefits it would provide.

Professor Paul Ekins, of University College London, said: "Much of the debate around the choice between gas-fired and offshore wind electricity generation in the years post-2020 assumes wind is more expensive.

"This study presents powerful evidence to the contrary.

"The results show it is a great economic, as well as environmental, mistake not to include the 2030 target in the Energy Bill.

"Such a target, by giving greater assurance to investors of the post-2020 direction of travel of UK energy policy, is a no-regrets option, encouraging investors to locate their wind supply chain in the UK, but representing the right economic choice even if that does not happen."

David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: "With the right long-term policy signals for investors, offshore wind could provide more jobs, more prosperity and lower carbon emissions than gas.

"The International Energy Agency and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are both forecasting continued increases in the price and imports of gas over the next 20 years, so too much dependence on gas would leave the UK very exposed to future price shocks."

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said the Energy Bill currently did not provide investors with the certainty they needed to go ahead with billions of pounds of investment in renewables.

He added: "Investment in wind energy will allow us to kick our expensive and polluting gas habit.

"We already give billions to Qatar every year for gas imports - this report proves it would be much more prudent to invest that money in UK renewable energy instead."

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