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Offshore wind could milk €104bn from UK coffers

26 Jan 2011 16:07:45 | edem esgm

The UK could be preparing to waste £90bn (€104bn) over the coming decade if it continues on its "hell-for-leather nine-year charge" to build offshore wind farms in a bid to meet EU emissions reduction targets, parliamentarians were warned on Tuesday.

The same level of CO2 reductions could be achieved between now and 2020 through the development of additional gas-fired power generation capacity, at just 10% of the total offshore wind cost, according to Oxford University professor Dieter Helm.

Helm slapped a £100bn price tag on government plans to drive the mass development of the offshore wind sector. The UK has over 40GW of projects at various stages of development (see EDEM 17 September 2010).

But he asserted that the same reductions could be achieved by building gas-fired power plants: "To get a grip on this problem you only have to have a ball-park figure in mind, and building gas would probably cost less then £10bn," Helm said.

Helm also questioned the standalone viability of the giant construction programme, which is being overseen in the UK by The Crown Estate.

"Very few people privately think there is much chance of achieving offshore wind build to the scale required," he said. "We live in a game in which we design policies to achieve an objective that most people think we are not going to achieve. That is a recipe for a very expensive energy policy."

Post-2020 uncertainty

The assertions were made as Helm gave evidence to the parliamentary Committee on Energy and Climate Change in London. The scale of the theoretical savings Helm spoke of would slash the cost of decarbonising energy supply in the UK - put at £200bn by British energy regulator Ofgem (see EDEM 9 October 2009) - by 45%.

But Helm admitted that focussing on gas-fired power generation in favour of offshore wind until 2020 would pose an additional problem from 2020-30. This is the period during which the UK plans the near-total decarbonisation of its power supply, which would be a major step towards the overarching goal of slashing its CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.

In such a scenario, much would depend on the successful commercial-scale implementation of carbon capture and storage in respect of gas-fired power plants, yet the technology remains clouded by economic and technological doubts at present.

The scale of the investment challenge facing the UK, which is characterised by low running costs but high capital costs, has raised fears that some of Europe's biggest energy firms will look elsewhere for more lucrative investment opportunities (see EDEM 19 January 2011).

Helm compared the scale to that undertaken by France at the transformation of its electricity generation industry through the mass-development of nuclear power - beginning in 1965 when its first reactor was commissioned. JS

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