April 4, 2006

UK Offshore Wind Industry Calls for Government Help

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's fledgling offshore wind power industry, offering itself as a key player in fighting global warming, appealed on Tuesday for more government money.

In a report to its annual meeting, the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) said that with extra cash, offshore wind could be producing enough electricity to power five million homes by 2015 -- more than eight times current output.

"There is a cost gap of 300 pounds per kilowatt that is stopping us achieving our potential. We need the government to help us cross that," BWEA chief executive Marcus Rand told Reuters on the margins of the meeting in central London.

Without that help, the industry might only be able to generate two gigawatts of electricity or one quarter of its potential, he said.

Rand called on the government, which is more than half way through a six-month study of the nation's future energy needs, to use the exercise to swing major support behind low or zero carbon emission renewable sources like wind and waves.

Britain, which has pushed global warming high up the international agenda, must soon replace its old nuclear and coal-fired power stations, secure its energy supplies and meet international pledges to cut climate-changing carbon emissions.

Rand said the industry needed the government to prime the offshore wind energy pump either through capital grants or allowances or by underwriting some of its risks.

"Look at Spain, Germany and Sweden. The governments there decided to back onshore wind and they are now seeing the gain," he said. "We have the chance now in this country to do the same with offshore wind.

Skeptics accuse the government of using the energy review to cloak a decision they say has already been taken in secret to build a new generation of nuclear power plants.

Such a decision, they say, would starve the renewables industry of much needed investment by instead diverting the funds into the highly capital-intensive nuclear industry.

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks denied that any such decision had been taken but said that all options -- including nuclear -- had to be studied.

"This is not a contest between nuclear and renewables as some people want us to believe," he told the meeting. "The review is not about finding a single solution. That doesn't exist."

The government last week admitted that while it was on target to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it was falling short of its tougher, self-imposed goal of cutting carbon dioxide output by 20 percent by 2010.

It also announced a campaign to promote local power sources like rooftop wind turbines and solar panels, to cut demand.