BT invests £250m in wind farms

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The Independent Online

BT upped the ante in the green-energy stakes yesterday by revealing plans to lead a £250m wind farm project to generate renewable power that will supply a quarter of its energy needs by 2016.

It is the largest corporate wind power project to be launched outside the energy sector and puts pressure on other large UK companies with large land banks to consider similar action.

BT is one of the biggest consumers of electricity within the UK with its annual consumption accounting for around 0.7 per cent of the country's energy usage.

The company has already reduced its carbon emissions by 60 per cent since 1996 and expects the new wind farm project to help the company hit its new target of 80 per cent by 2016.

Power generation is hardly BT's core business, but Hanif Lalani, the company's finance director, said it was important that the company leads the way on reducing its carbon footprint as its customers demand it. "Customers want us to generate products and services using green energy. No doubt you will see other corporates doing what we are doing today," he said.

John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, said the UK derived around 4 per cent of its energy from renewable means, a figure it needs to treble over the next decade.

"I hope more companies will follow the example set by BT ... this is not the latest trend, this is the beginning of a cultural change. We all have to do this," he said.

BT has identified three sites on land it owns in Cornwall, the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands that could be windy enough to build wind farms, and is considering other appropriate sites.

It said that its wind farms could generate a total of 250 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city the size of Coventry. The project could save around 500,000 tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to a quarter of a million return air trips to New York, BT said. Richard Tarboton, head of BT's energy division, said: "That's a substantial saving not just for BT, but for the UK as a whole."

BT is looking for partners to participate in the project, from both the financial and energy sectors, and intends to maintain a minority stake in the venture. Mr Lalani said he does not expect a short-term return on investment, but said that it will secure its energy supply and improve its reputation among its customers.

Wind power is the fastest-growing renewable energy sector in the UK, dwarfing the progress in sourcing power from solar and tidal facilities, with wind seen as the leading factor in the fight against climate change.

Mr Hutton said that changes to the planning regime are needed to stimulate investment in wind farms and that the Government is also keen to harness other renewable energy forms such as wave and tidal power.