Maria McCafferty: Wind power starting to overtake coal and nuclear

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IT’S been a good summer for wind. Our fleet of onshore and offshore wind turbines is now regularly generating more electricity than coal or nuclear plants.

That’s not bad for a source of electricity which first came to the UK in 1991 when the Delabole wind farm opened in Cornwall. To put that in context, that’s only three years since Torness Nuclear Power Station began operating.

Fast forward 23 years, and for the first time wind is starting to outperform coal and nuclear. We’ve now seen a number of days when wind power produces more electricity than either over a 24-hour period.

We’ve had many reasons to celebrate over the past month. On August 11, we hit a new daily record when onshore and offshore wind provided 21 per cent of the UK’s entire electricity needs. But wind energy then beat its own record on August 17 when we reached 22 per cent. So if anyone dares to suggest to you that wind only provides a trickle of power, just point them towards those figures – we’re regularly generating more than a fifth of our electricity from wind.

There is now enough wind energy operating to power well over six million UK homes every year. That saves us more than 11.5 million tonnes of damaging carbon emissions annually. This is a tangible, practical investment in our health, and the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren. Each unit of power we get from wind means less imported coal or gas. If we swapped our wind farms for coal power we would need to import 30 per cent more coal from places such as Russia to help keep the lights on.

Even better news is that the cost of wind energy continues to come down. Prices are falling and by the end of this decade onshore wind is going to be the cheapest of any source of power. Which means not only is wind the low-carbon choice, it’s the economic choice.

That’s why it’s so puzzling that the Conservatives announced in April that they wouldn’t support any future onshore wind projects if they’re 
re-elected next year. They’re way out of step with every independent opinion poll carried out over the last five years, which consistently shows that two-thirds of ordinary people support onshore wind.

Since 1991, a lot has changed in where we get our energy needs from but the growth of renewable energy has been a huge success story which is set to continue. As more capacity is installed, we’ll continue to hit new highs, and keep on generating good headlines. More importantly than that, it means we’re continuing to do the right thing for our country for the long term – and that’s even better than breaking records.

Maria McCaffery is chief executive of RenewableUK, not-for-profit trade association representing the UK’s wind, wave and tidal energy industries