Call For a Green New Deal in the UK

The head of the UK’s Environment Agency said today that his country needs to produce a comprehensive, long-term strategy for investing in renewable energy, environmental technology, energy efficiency, and carbon capture and storage (hat tip to the Guardian).

As part of its push for a cleaner UK, the agency, which is responsible for protecting the environment in England and Wales, offered a plan to build up to 80 wind turbines on agency-owned land, generating 200 megawatts of renewable energy. “I believe if there is to be another New Deal, that it has to be a green New Deal, and that is what I would like to see here in the UK,” Chris Smith, head of the Environment Agency, said in his keynote speech at the agency’s annual conference in London.

On the same day that the government’s chancellor of the exchequer gave his pre-budget report to Parliament, Smith said that many of the country’s renewable plans so far have been piecemeal. He called for investments in cleantech capital projects, including a major national program for power generation through wind, solar and tidal sources, that he said could create jobs amid a recession, as well as mitigate climate change.

But building more wind turbines may not be the answer. The UK has set a target to provide 20 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, but according to new research from a University of Cambridge physicist, the government could come up short if it depends too much on wind. Professor David MacKay told the Telegraph that the average energy used per person in the UK is 125 kilowatt hours per day. He said it would take enough wind turbines to cover an area the size of Wales to generate just 20 kilowatt hours per day per person.

There have been some ups and downs in the UK wind industry recently, with the revelation earlier this month that oil giant BP is pulling out of projects in the UK, China, India and Turkey, and moving its wind investments to the United States. And in May, Netherland’s Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would sell its stake in the London Array, expected to be the largest offshore wind farm in the world when it’s built. But Sweden’s Vattenfall has announced big plans for projects in the UK, teaming up with ScottishPower Renewables to make joint bids on offshore wind farm development in the country.

Smith, who referenced U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s plans to boost the economy with investments in cleantech, is calling for more than just capital projects, but changes in policy as well. He cited the need for more incentives for energy efficiency in homes and businesses, such as feed-in tariffs and grants, and called for the removal of what he said were disincentives for the development of anaerobic digestion and other biomass projects.

“If you put in place renewable energy sources that will carry on providing energy at low maintenance and low input costs over the course of the next 50 or 100 years, you have done something not just for a short-term stimulus, but for long-term economic benefit as well.”

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