Both major parties contesting the UK’s general election on Thursday have pledged big increases in offshore wind ambitions – but two major developers claimed nationalisation plans could act as a drag on progress to Britain’s 2050 net-zero emissions target.
The opposition Labour Party – currently trailing in the polls – has pledged to build 37 new offshore wind farms under majority public-ownership, and to create a new UK National Energy Agency that will own and maintain the national grid if its wins power.
That would take the UK to 52GW of wind in its waters by 2030 against a current national goal of 30GW
The governing Conservative Party made its own promise to boost the UK’s offshore wind target to 40GW and back floating technology.
As the election build-up entered its final days after weeks dominated by Brexit and the future of the National Health Service, the offshore wind commitments were at least something tangible to grab after a campaign in which climate and energy issues were largely absent.
With the UK’s ‘third party’ the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party – both potentially influential if a coalition is needed – also supportive, offshore wind can claim to have enjoyed a good election.
Industry body RenewableUK’s director of strategic communications Luke Clark said: “Offshore wind is a vital technology for tackling the climate emergency, and increasing our ambition will help to create tens of thousands of new jobs, especially in coastal communities, and attract billions in investment in much-needed clean energy infrastructure.”
However, two leading utilities active in the UK sector claimed Labour’s plans could throw the nation’s market-leading progress off course by injecting unnecessary uncertainty.
Keith Anderson, chief executive of Iberdrola-owned utility ScottishPower – which is engaged in a massive build off eastern England – told Recharge: “We all need to worry about how we get to zero carbon by 2050. It will be a huge distraction if we spend the next two to three years debating nationalisation.
“This isn’t just about companies, competition or free markets. It’s more about how you get government policy, regulatory frameworks, and competition all working together to speed things up.
“Let’s not waste time in arguments over who owns what. I think we have already had a long enough debate in the UK about whether 2040 or 2050 is the right answer for zero emissions. Let’s just get on and start investing and putting projects into the ground.”
Fellow utility SSE – partnering Norway’s Equinor on the giant Dogger Bank development – warned state-owned development of offshore wind farms could make it more difficult to build new projects and could risk the UK’s leadership position in offshore wind.
“This is a time for working together now to tackle the climate crisis, not waste years attempting a very costly, complex and controversial nationalisation,” said an SSE spokeswoman.
Other renewables technologies enjoyed less attention, and there was no immediate sign of the Conservatives softening their controversial policy to exclude onshore wind and solar from the country’s contract-for-difference (CfD) support mechanism.
Labour, by contrast, promises to build 2,000 new onshore turbines and “enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches”.
Audrey Gallacher, policy director at trade body EnergyUK, told Recharge: “We believe the contracts-for-difference scheme should be available to all relevant low-carbon technologies that would support the transition to net-zero while the recently reinstated capacity market (CM), which ensures security of supply, should be technology neutral.
“This will allow the CM to support the transition to a carbon neutral electricity system, ensuring that low cost technologies, such as onshore wind and solar – which are vital to the decarbonisation process and can, at scale, provide security of supply – can rightly play their part.”
RenewableUK’s Clark said “We will need to use a range of renewables to modernise our energy system – and that must include using the cheapest sources available, as well as innovative new technologies.”
Clark added that Labour was right to identify renewables as a major engine for job creation in the years ahead. “We welcome the party’s ambition to build much-needed new capacity by rolling out more onshore and offshore wind using our two cheapest power sources, as well as their championing of innovative tidal power and the expansion of energy storage and local community projects.”
Clark said it was also good to see a recognition of the importance of upgrading the grid to modernise our energy system. “However, reorganising our energy networks risks being a costly and complex option at a time when we need to speed up the decarbonisation of our economy.”