Britain's wind power revolution

Hutton's dramatic policy shift signals less reliance on nuclear energy
Offshore farms could provide all UK homes with electricity within 13 years

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Britain is to embark on a wind power revolution that will produce enough electricity to power every home in the country, ministers will reveal tomorrow.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that, in an astonishing U-turn, the Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, will announce that he is opening up the seas around Britain to wind farms in the biggest ever renewable energy initiative. Only weeks ago he was resisting a major expansion of renewable sources, on the grounds that it would interfere with plans to build new nuclear power stations.

The revelation rounds off an unprecedented week in the battle against global warming in Britain and the United States. On Wednesday and Thursday measures to boost US use of renewable energy for electricity and motor fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions were approved in Congress. The move comes as 190 nations meet in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate what is seen as the world's "last chance" of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

Yesterday hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 86 countries across the globe to demand urgent action from the Bali meeting. Several thousand campaigners marched in torrential rain through London to rally at the US embassy. Some posters carried a picture of President George Bush and the words "Wanted for crimes against the planet".

Mr Hutton's announcement, which will be made at a conference in Berlin tomorrow, will identify sites in British waters for enough wind farms to produce 25 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2020, in addition to the 8GW already planned enough to meet the needs of all the country's homes.

It means that within only eight years, Britain's offshore wind industry will be twice the size of that of any other nation in the world.

The move will put the country well on the way to achieving a tough EU target of providing 20 per cent of the country's energy from renewable sources by 2020. But just six weeks ago, Mr Hutton's department, far from attempting to meet the target was trying to kill it.

In a confidential memorandum, Gordon Brown was advised that the target was expensive and faced "severe practical difficulties". It went on to warn how it would reduce "the incentives to invest in other technologies like nuclear power".

But the Prime Minister overruled Mr Hutton and insisted in his first green speech as PM last month that the target would be maintained and met. Now the Business Secretary will also announce tomorrow that he is to set up a panel under his chairmanship to work out how to hit it.

"By 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the UK's homes," Mr Hutton is expected to say in a speech to the European energy industry in Berlin."The challenge for Government and for industry is to turn this potential for our energy and economy into a cost-effective reality. This will be a major challenge."

The announcement is the first step in implementing the offshore wind power revolution, which is likely to run into far less environmental opposition than proposals to build wind farms on land. Once sites have been identified, companies will then draw their plans and submit them for approval to Mr Hutton's department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

So far two things have held them back: site identification and an assurance that the resulting installations will be connected to the national grid. This move removes the former.

Yesterday Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association, hailed the move as a "decisive step". She added: "We welcome the Government's effort to place wind energy on a sound footing and promote Britain into a leader in this sector."

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