This week as the UK basked in the first rays of spring, the economy appeared to be looking towards sunnier times. Forecasts from the British Chambers of Commerce show just enough growth in the last quarter for the UK to avoid falling into a second recession. However, like the weather, this economic optimism may also be fleeting, as analysis from the OECD predicts further contraction and while the rate of the increase in unemployment is slowing, unemployment is still rising. There may be better times ahead, but at present our economic recovery remains fragile and there is a lot to be done to ensure it moves in the right direction.
This backdrop makes investment, growth, jobs and economic stability for the public more crucial than ever, so we need to be championing the creation and development of industries, such as the UK’s wind, wave and tidal energy industries, which can help us to reach these essential goals. This is one of the reasons why RenewableUK and 12 founding signatories from across the industry, including RWE, GE and Vestas, have launched the RenewableUK Wind Energy Charter. The Charter outlines the significant economic benefits that the UK’s wind energy industry is already delivering, which David Cameron has recently highlighted as crucial to our economic recovery and stability. It also sets out three core principles which commit the industry to continued medium-term investment of £50 billion in the UK, creating 90,000 energy jobs in the next eight years, while increasing our energy security and protecting consumers from rising energy costs.
Let me take each of these three principles and the benefits they will bring in turn.
1. The wind energy industry will invest in the prosperity and energy security of the UK.
The industry intends to invest many billions of pounds in the UK’s economy, building onshore and offshore wind farms; developing new manufacturing facilities; upgrading ports into energy hubs and creating Research & Development and training facilities all around the country. This investment will revitalise communities throughout the UK and secure our energy independence.
Wind brings us that security by giving us a means to harness an abundant, clean and sustainable source of energy, reducing our dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports, increasingly from politically unstable parts of the globe. For many countries, including the USA, this consideration has become progressively important as a fundamental element of a wider national security policy. Let’s not forget that Russia turned off the gas supply to Europe in 2006, when it became embroiled in a dispute with Ukraine, and was responsible for no less than 17 disruptions to gas supplies to Western Europe over the following 12 months. When Russia did restore the supply it was at double the price. More recently, we have all felt the pain this winter, when international gas prices soared by 40% compared to last year, sending domestic fuel bills rocketing. Should we carry on exposing ourselves to the instability of global energy prices and the unpredictability of global events, or should we recognise the political and economic value of taking control of our energy supply?
The industry is also creating substantial economic opportunities. In the last year it has attracted £5 billion in investment to the UK, and now intends to boost this with a further £50 billion in the next eight years. Look at the multinationals queuing up to build wind turbine factories in the UK, such Vestas. Consider the companies who have committed to developing wind turbine technology in the UK, such as Samsung and Mitsubishi.
2. The UK wind energy industry will provide financial security for families by creating tens of thousands of long term jobs.
With unemployment currently standing at 8.4%, or over 2.6 million people currently out of work, we need to develop industries that will not only create jobs but offer careers for generations to come. The wind energy industry aims to create tens of thousands of UK based jobs across a wide range of business sectors. Companies large and small will benefit as investment in engineering, manufacturing and training accelerates and extends from wind energy into associated industries.
The wind energy industry in the UK already employs nearly 12,000 already and will increase that to around 90,000 over the next eight years, investing heavily in technical training as we go. Which other industries can offer such enormous opportunities to develop our engineering skills, our manufacturing base and our supply chain? The industry is also a primary investor in tackling youth unemployment, supporting a growing number of initiatives to attract young people into the energy sector with the promise and commitment of a long-term and highly rewarding career.
Remember too the spin-off benefits – the service industries supplying this rapidly expanding sector with hotel rooms, food, taxis – these are also the beneficiaries of an industry which will continue to be built out for decades to come.
3. The wind energy industry will provide clean, safe and affordable energy that will power the UK for many generations to come.
The industry is firmly committed to reducing the cost of wind energy over time and to cement its role as a vital part of the UK’s energy mix. In doing so, we will be helping to protect consumers from fluctuating global energy prices and from increasing dependency on imported fossil fuels. These measures will also reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.
The UK is already the global leader in offshore wind power, with a greater installed capacity than anywhere else in the world. Wind energy both on- and offshore currently provides enough clean, secure energy to power nearly 5 million homes in the UK. Our industry intends to increase this to 17 million homes by 2020. In doing so we shall continually work to reduce costs to ensure consumers get value for money. Our Chairman, Andrew Jamieson of Scottish Power Renewables, heads the Government’s Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Taskforce which is examining this issue in detail.
The independent energy regulator, Ofgem, has just published a report showing that financial support for wind now costs the average household just 2 pence per day – a very small price to pay for a country making the absolutely vital transition to a low-carbon economy.
The RenewableUK Wind Energy Charter sets out the long-term commitments of the industry, the benefits it will bring and how it will help to regenerate our economy and underpin growth. Working with government and the public we will provide investment and jobs where they are most needed, energy security at a time when it is most critical and deliver affordable, clean and totally sustainable electricity for everyone.
(Maria McCaffery is the Chief Executive of RenewableUK, the trade association representing the wind, wave and tidal energy industries sectors of the United Kingdom).