The Energy Secretary Ed Davey has stepped up his battle against climate change after announcing plans for eight giant renewable power projects that will deliver enough green electricity for three million homes.
The new offshore wind and biomass generators will create about 8,500 new jobs and give a much-needed boost to Britain’s energy security in the face of growing threats from Russia over gas supplies, Mr Davey said. They will increase the UK’s electricity supply by about four per cent and will rely on subsidies that will add about two per cent – or £11 – to the average annual electricity bill by 2020.
Mr Davey defended the cost, arguing that these kind of low-carbon projects were essential to boost energy security and battle climate change.
“I see the climate change debate as inextricably linked with energy security. If we can reduce our dependency on imported energy, it will make us both more secure but also enable us to tackle climate change,” he said.
“If you had a prolonged crisis in Ukraine and prolonged disruption to gas supplies to Europe you would see a price impact. This is something we need to guard against and one of the reasons why investing in low-carbon sources like offshore wind, biomass and nuclear makes great economic sense,” Mr Davey added.
Mr Davey insisted that onshore wind had a “huge future” in Britain despite Conservative party moves to curb its development and the lack of such a project among the eight new plants announced yesterday. He said one of them was going to be an onshore wind farm but the backers later pulled out and pointed out that a huge number of other land-based wind farms were in development.
The projects are the first to be approved by the government under a new subsidy scheme that guarantees the operators a fixed price for their electricity that cannot be changed by future governments.
The approved schemes include offshore wind farms in Liverpool Bay and off the Moray, Norfolk and Yorkshire coasts. They also include biomass burners at the giant Drax coal power plant complex in Selby and in Middlesborough. Biomass plants run on organic matter such as wood, grass, rubbish and waste gases such as methane.
A bid for a second burner at Drax was turned down, leading its owner to announce legal proceedings against the government.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at comparison website uSwitch.com, said: “While delivering secure, clean energy is an important part of the government’s energy market reforms, it is imperative that affordability and keeping household costs to a minimum remain at the heart of its policy.”
“Although two per cent over the next six years may not sound like a significant increase, with the average energy bill now at an eye-watering £1,265 a year many consumers will be left feeling concerned by this announcement,” she added.
Mr Davey acknowledged that the eight projects will increase the average electricity prices, but said the developments should be seen in the context of the government’s energy policies across the board. The net impact of these will leave household gas and electricity bills £166 lower than they would have been by 2020, Mr Davey said – even though rising wholesale gas prices are likely to ensure the bill is higher than it is today.
However, critics have questioned the £166 saving estimate, pointing out that it relies on households spending thousands of pounds on subsidised energy efficiency measures such as loft insulation and solar panels.