current affairs energy politics

The day the Tories discovered wind power

Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, a somewhat muted affair given the lack of audience. The speech, which you can read in full here, is more characteristically Johnson than most of his recent official pronouncements. It’s funny, optimistic and jingoistic, if that’s the sort of thing you look for in a politician – and apparently British voters do or Boris Johnson wouldn’t have a career.

It has some awkward moments too. “We believe in our fantastic armed services as one of the greatest exports this country has” is going to ring rather hollow in Yemen, for example. And there’s something really rather sinister about the demonising of “lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders”.

Still, the reason I wanted to mention the speech is this bit:

“I can today announce that the UK government has decided to become the world leader in low cost clean power generation – cheaper than coal, cheaper than gas; and we believe that in ten years time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts.”

He went on to promise £160 million to support ports and factories to build turbines, and suggested that Britain would have 15 times as much floating wind power by 2030 as the rest of the world combined.

This is a remarkable turnaround. There was a bit in Johnson’s speech where he condemned anti-wind attitudes of the past: “I remember how some people used to sneer at wind power, twenty years ago, and say that it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”. He neglected to mention that he was quoting himself there, and far more recently than 20 years ago. In 2013 he told a radio show that “Labour put in a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding” and that the future was in shale gas.

Boris Johnson has apparently noticed wind power for the first time, and “decided to become the world leader” in it. There is an irony here. Johnson is constantly claiming world leadership for all sorts of things, from 5G coverage to track-and-trace systems, often with no evidence to support that claim. One of the few things that Britain actually does lead the world on is offshore wind power, and he hadn’t noticed.

This new attention is of course very welcome, though incomplete. All Johnson’s claims are for offshore wind power, while onshore wind remains the cheapest form of energy in the country, and is far more popular than many people think.

And secondly, the claims are incomplete because there are no policies to back any of this up yet. Declaring Britain the Saudi Arabia of wind is one thing, seeing it through it quite another. And £160 million in investment is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. That’s the cost of one Royal Navy patrol boat, a third of an Easyjet bailout, or three summer transfers for Chelsea football club. £160 million does not buy you a green industrial revolution.

So it would be wise to wait and see what policies and funding there is to actually put wheels under Johnson’s rhetoric. But we have waited a long time to hear a Prime Minister enthuse about green energy, and that in itself is worth celebrating.

5 comments

  1. To what extent is Johnson trying to get credit/reflected glory for something that’s happening on its own? And if it’s a good investment case, what are the arguments for the government putting in far more meaningful investment (what is £160M as a proportion of the overall amount to be invested in offwhore wind)? Perhaps it could be recouping good returns in a few years, when it will badly need revenues to repay debts being acrrued now?
    And regarding onshore wind (or solar), it will be interesting to see how much local authorities get into this – I think there are quite a few attractions for them to invest in this? I’d be interested to know how things might proceed in this area..

    1. There’s no doubt that wind power has flourished despite the Conservatives, not because of them. They can rightly point to the carbon price floor making coal uneconomic, but the plan was to replace coal with fracked gas and they’ve been no friends of the renewables industry.

      I suppose by saying that they have ‘decided’ to be a world leader in this allows him to say, in future, that it happened because of that decision. But despite always looking windswept himself, he is very late to the party.

      I get the impression that the £160 million is a tactical investment in port infrastructure in particular, so that more ports are able to play an active role in operation and maintenance of offshore sites. That will cut costs and expand the number of viable sites, and better conditions would presumably attract more investment. It’s also a great opportunity to regenerate some post-industrial coastal areas and create jobs, so I’m all for it.

  2. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    This is a remarkable turnaround. There was a bit in Johnson’s speech where he condemned anti-wind attitudes of the past: “I remember how some people used to sneer at wind power, twenty years ago, and say that it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”. He neglected to mention that he was quoting himself there, and far more recently than 20 years ago. In 2013 he told a radio show that “Labour put in a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding” and that the future was in shale gas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: