The Ecologist

 

Gordon Brown's figures for offshore wind are nonsense

Dan Box

18th January, 2010

Building offshore wind farms is great. Inaccurately quoting or massaging the figures that support them is not

He can't help himself can he? It isn't enough for Gordon Brown to save the banks, he has to save the world.

It isn't enough to announce which companies will build enough new British offshore wind farms to provide electricity for almost all of Britain's homes, he has to say: 'The offshore wind industry … could be worth £75 billion and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020'.

The only thing you can be certain of about this sentence is that none of these figures will be correct.

Let's look at each in turn:

1. £75 billion

No one I've spoken to at various Government departments knows what this figure means, or where it's from. First I was told to read a report by the Carbon Trust, which was set up by government to know about these things. I've read the report. The figure isn't there.

Possibly, I wondered, Brown was really talking about how much it will cost to build the wind farms in the first place, which, according to the Carbon Trust, is also £75 billion (money which will be ponied up by the companies involved).

But no, eventually the PR firm employed by the Trust sent me a PowerPoint presentation they said would contain the £75bn figure. Except, it doesn't.

The closest I can find in either of these documents is an estimate of net economic benefit to the UK created offshore wind by 2050, ie. the total value created between now and then in terms of new jobs, new investment and so on. A huge range of possible numbers are given for this, from -£1bn to +£65bn over this time. If Brown did rely on this calculation, then he took the very highest of the range of estimated benefits, bought the timescale forward by 30 years, added £10bn and made his speech.

2. 70,000 jobs

Again, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, told me to read the Carbon Trust report. Again, 70,000 jobs is right at the top of the range of estimates the report provides. It's not going to happen, or at least these are unlikely to be British jobs, as most of the firms who won the wind farm contracts are based abroad. The British Wind Energy Association estimate the figure is more like 45,000 jobs – and that is still optimistic.

3. 2020

This is the date by which Britain has committed to deliver 15 per cent of energy demand from renewables, with offshore wind due to play a big part in achieving that.  Only a few of the companies involved here have publicised timetables for the work involved – Siemens hopes to start by 2014, Eneco plans to complete in 2016 – and these deadlines are already looking tight. Britain also needs about 150km of new connections before these new power sources can feed in to the National Grid and getting planning consent for these can take 10 years. Which means we need to start doing so by ... now.

2020 is a nice target, which we probably won't hit.

Don't get me wrong, I like offshore wind. I just wish Brown would let the project speak for itself, rather than trying to spin it into something it is not.

UPDATE 20th January, 2010
Phil de Villiers, Offshore Wind Accelerator Manager with the Carbon Trust, writes to say that the £75 bn figure actually does refer to capital expenditure (how much it will cost to build these wind farms), not, as Brown says, how much they will be 'worth'. Brown's speech was therefore simply misleading. It's quite possible to build something that costs billions and is worth nothing.

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