Lindsay McQuade: Economic facts alone should blow away doubts about wind power

Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest onshore site in the UK. Picture: John Devlin
Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest onshore site in the UK. Picture: John Devlin
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The first ever Onshore Wind Week in the UK has just come to a close, with events held across the country over the past seven days

The renewable energy industry joined forces with workers, families and even frozen food retailers, to make the case for the future of our sector. It kicked off with 5,000 people visiting Whitelee Wind Farm, East Renfrewshire, last Sunday for a family fun day, and included visits to Westminster and Holyrood where MPs and MSPs could hear from some of the tens of thousands of people working in the industry.

In an unexpected but welcome intervention, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream also threw its weight behind onshore wind. As part of a sustainability campaign it launched tubs of Strawberry Breeze-cake and Cherry Gale-cia – among others – as it joined efforts to encourage the UK government to rethink their opposition to onshore wind.

Underpinning all the activities last week was a new report, which set out the major economic benefits that onshore wind can deliver. On the day it was published, separate economic figures showed that foreign investments in Scotland increased by 7 per cent last year, outstripping most other parts of the UK.

This was welcome news, and it is happening because Scotland is a great place to invest. Scotland has good infrastructure, a highly skilled workforce and a wealth of innovative businesses delivering pioneering work.

We know this, because we have been investing in Scotland. In the past two years ScottishPower Renewables invested £650 million to build eight new onshore wind projects, all in Scotland. Total lifetime investment for these projects will be £1.6 billion.

Yet six months after we completed the last of our eight projects, the onshore wind industry has all but ground to a halt. New investment has dried-up. As it stands there is no route to market for building new onshore wind projects. There are contracts available for nuclear, diesel generators and batteries – but not for onshore wind.

Partly the industry itself is to blame for the position we are in. We have not been good enough at managing and responding to misconceptions, and we have allowed ourselves to become politically unpopular in some quarters.

Read more: ‘Record year’ for renewable electricity generation in Scotland

Although recent statistics show that 76 per cent of the UK public supports onshore wind, a large enough chunk of politicians do not.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the majority of investment benefit goes to companies on the continent who manufacture the turbines.

In fact, of our eight new wind farms, two-thirds of the £1.6bn total lifetime investment, will actually benefit UK businesses directly, three-quarters of that going to Scottish businesses.

The report last week showed that if we were given the chance to compete to build 5 gigawatts of new onshore wind, enough to power around 3 million homes, nearly 70 per cent of the £6bn lifetime investment would go to UK businesses.

Of 18,000 jobs it would create, 60 per cent of them would be in Scotland.

New onshore projects would also see money going back to consumers. More efficient technology and competitive auctions will see the cost of new onshore wind drop beneath the wholesale electricity price from 2023. So UK electricity consumers could receive £1.6bn payback from newly built onshore wind farms.

But none of this is possible if the current impasse continues. To deliver the benefits, we need a level playing field. We need the opportunity to compete for contracts like all other power generators.

I think we deserve that opportunity. Onshore wind is now the cheapest of all forms of new power generation in the UK. We are hard to match when it comes to benefits for the environment, the economy and consumers.

Hopefully the facts and figures can make a better case for our industry than we have been able to do so far.

And hopefully it is only a matter of time before billions of pounds of new investment in onshore wind is unlocked and complementing the positive increase in foreign investment.

Lindsay McQuade is CEO of ScottishPower Renewables

Read more: Scotland on track for ‘record year’ of renewable generation