It makes economic sense to stand by renewables

Ed Davey, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, challenges the opponents of renewables. 

We must make the argument for renewables based on economic growth.

We have seen £29bn of investment in renewables since 2010 alone; and electricity from renewable sources has more than doubled since 2010. Renewable power generation and renewable investment are both set to keep on growing; average annual investment has doubled this Parliament, compared to the last. We are attracting more new-build renewables asset finance than any other country in Europe — behind only China and the US globally. With this kind of momentum, I am confident that by 2020 we will more than meet our objective to supply at least 30 per cent of our electricity needs from renewables.

But the key economic challenges and opportunities for our renewables strategy  go beyond this investment record.

I’ve been determined to build up Britain’s own supply chain in renewable power, and to position a stronger UK renewables supply chain for the global market.

The decision by Siemens and ABP Ports to invest in new manufacturing facilities in Hull was a massive step forward. And I am delighted that MHI Vestas Offshore Wind has announced the first part of its UK industrial strategy, which will involve, subject to orders, serial production of its 80m blade from its factory on the Isle of Wight.

Yet our task is to go much further still, and that’s why in May, Matthew Chinn of Siemens was invited to undertake an independent review of the UK offshore wind supply chain. His report was published in early November.

The perceived wisdom is that the profits from UK offshore wind are spent overseas, but the report shows that, in fact, more than 40 per cent of lifetime costs of a UK wind farm are dispersed in the UK supply chain. UK capacity in the offshore wind supply chain is growing — so we can grow that proportion still higher. That is a challenge for both government and industry, working together through the Industry Council. Building a strong supply chain needs the commitment and expertise of local partners.

The Centres for Offshore Renewable Engineering partnership works to provide support to businesses choosing England as an investment location. Its new prospectus sets out the capabilities of key areas of England to host offshore wind companies.

What gets me excited and inspired by this investment story is the story of the jobs it’s creating and the people it is benefitting, across Britain. So it’s great that RenewablesUK is launching its Faces of Wind Energy Campaign to help boost the numbers of young people thinking about the renewables industry as a career. The pilot of a new online careers mapping tool can help guide people through the options available in renewables. RUK’s State of the Industry report also published today estimates there has been an eight per cent growth in jobs in the wind sector in the last year alone — with almost half of their members planning to take on more staff in the next 18 months.

So renewables are a great British success story. Yet despite all this, there is concern about the future and I understand why. Despite all the progress, the politics of renewables has been turning ugly. From onshore wind to solar farms, the political voices against an expansion in renewables have become ever shriller.

Some voices are complaining about a specific renewables project in their area. That is their right. Indeed, not every renewables proposal will be appropriately sited and it is right some are turned down.

Yet we are seeing other political voices driven by less honourable motives, such as populism; vested interests; and anti-science. If we are to win the politics of renewables we have to face down those voices.

It is very reassuring to see that opinion polls that still show large majorities in favour of renewables. And I want to pay tribute to the industry for working with government to go the extra mile to win that argument with everything from new, more generous community benefits, to the work done by  the Shared Ownership Taskforce.

With an approach that reaches out to local communities, I believe we are winning the argument on the ground, despite the vocal minorities we still witness. It’s vital that politicians at every level of government recognise the huge benefits renewable investment brings.

Just as all the main political parties created an impressive consensus for the Climate Change Act in the last Parliament;  just as we have created an impressive coalition for the 2013 Energy Act in this Parliament; we need for this coming General Election to create a coalition for renewables.

So as we approach the next election, all parties need to make clear: do they stand with your industry, for a renewables future? For a coalition for renewables? Or do they stand in the way? We can’t duck that question any longer, however difficult it is.

This article is adapted from a speech given by Mr Davey to Renewables UK on 12 November 2014

Ed Davey is secretary of state for energy and climate change