Energy secretary says lack of turbines will raise consumer bills and Tory ideological stance is putting off investors
The Conservative party’s opposition to onshore wind turbines risks undermining the creation of British jobs since new data showed 15,400 people are now employed in the wind power industry, warns energy secretary Ed Davey.
While wind supplied 9% of all UK electricity, there has been a 70% rise in jobs in the wind power industry since 2010 according to the data from trade body RenewableUK. The wind power industry attracted £2.6bn of investment in 2013-14, of which £1.1bn remained in the UK.
As wind is the cheapest clean energy, new British jobs will be undermined and customer bills will increase because of that the Conservative party’s “ideological” opposition to onshore turbines says Davey.
“We have had a major leap forward in recent years and there is a really good story to tell,” said Davey. “But I want to be clear I am having a go at the Conservative party here. It has made it clear onshore wind is something they don’t want to see in the future expansion of low-carbon energy and I think that is undermining investment now and undermining jobs.”
More than 50 windfarm planning applications have been called in by Tory community’s secretary, Eric Pickles for his adjudication and in October Davey said his cabinet colleague was in danger of “abusing ministerial power”. “This political noise we keep hearing is undermining investor confidence in onshore wind and having a contagion effect in renewable energy more generally,” said Davey.
“Anyone who undermines investor confidence in Britain should explain themselves,” he said. “Our economic recovery is vital for British jobs and our prosperity and I hope people who put that at risk for ideological reasons will get punished at the polls.”
Davey said the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was committed to the UK’s carbon emission targets; however a decision to block windfarms would burden energy bill-payers. Davey goes on to say: “If you take onshore wind off the table, which we know is the cheapest large-scale renewable, then you are going to increase people’s energy bills.”
Full-time jobs in the commercial British wind industry rose 8% in the 12 months to June 2014 according to RenewableUK.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK said “That’s a growth rate that most other sectors can only dream of – renewables is the employment engine of the future. However, this growth is threatened with extinction by the Conservatives’ misguided policy of ending all future support for it. The Tories are way out of step with the two-thirds majority of the public which consistently supports onshore wind.”
Tom Greatrex, Labour’s shadow energy minister, also opposed the Conservative opposition to wind power. “We have mounting evidence that Pickles is engaged in a crusade to subvert and undermine the planning process and local decisions in pursuit of his party’s economically illogical anti-renewables dogma. We now have an effective backdoor ban on onshore wind in the UK. The Tories need to wake up and realise they are hurting British industries and British jobs,” said Greatrex.
The Conservative environment secretary, Liz Truss, moved to curb the growth of solar power farms, which she described as a big problem earlier in November.
The latest information on jobs in the wind power industry came when the Conservative energy minister, Matthew Hancock, prepared to announce a £1.5m initiative to establish a national college for onshore oil and gas. “Shale gas is an enormous opportunity for the UK and one that we simply can’t afford to miss out on. Only by arming people with the skills they need to be shale specialists can we provide career opportunities for thousands of young people and help the UK economy remain strong and competitive” he said.
In 2013-14 windfarms generated £18m in community benefits and contributed £6m to local councils through business rates as reported by RenewableUK. Davey said that a supply chain initiative in conjunction with the business department, aimed to increase the proportion of the investment spent in Britain.
Employing more people than the teaching industry, the green economy employs almost a million people in the UK, worth £128bn, or 8% of GDP. John Cridland, director general of the CBI said in 2012, if the government untangled the “gnarly mess” of its policy, a green business boost could lead to the UK economy’s growth rate to increase by 0.5% by 2015, a gain of nearly £20bn in GDP.