A group of Tory MPs has called on the UK government to improve the UK’s energy security by sharply increasing its target for “floating” offshore wind farms, which can be built in deeper waters.
In a letter seen by the Financial Times, backbenchers belonging to the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), urged business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to grasp “the massive opportunity” presented by the relatively new type of wind turbine technology, in which the UK is a world leader.
It argued that floating offshore wind farms would help the government meet its goals of securing more sources of domestic energy supply and protecting British households from highly volatile international gas markets.
Last week, Kwarteng declared that the more “cheap, clean” power the UK generated at home via renewables and new nuclear reactors, the less exposed the country would be to gas imports and volatile prices.
Gas prices, which were already high, have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although the UK is less exposed than European allies to gas from Russia — the world’s biggest exporter — it is tied to the pricing of international gas markets.
Meanwhile, almost 40 Tory MPs and peers have written to Boris Johnson urging the UK prime minister to adopt a different path to boosting Britain’s energy security by reversing plans this month to plug shale gas wells in Lancashire with concrete.
The letter, organised by Steve Baker and Craig Mackinlay of the Conservative Net Zero scrutiny group, opposes the government’s moratorium on fracking, which led the Oil and Gas Authority, the industry regulator, to order the sealing of the wells.
But writing in the Mail on Sunday Kwarteng said Britain had no gas supply issues and that even if the ban on fracking were lifted, it would take a decade to extract sufficient volumes of shale gas.
He added: “No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon.” Kwarteng’s allies defended the plan to seal the wells, saying that leaving an “open 300m hole in Lancashire is not very safe”.
Even before the 2019 moratorium, some scientists had suggested the geology in many of the areas of the UK fracking had been proposed was not suitable for the commercial production of shale gas.
CEN’s letter pointed out that although the UK was planning to quadruple its offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2030, only 1GW of that was for newer floating turbines. It said that goal was “unambitious” and should be raised to 15GW by 2035 to give investors confidence to back floating technology at scale.
Floating turbines overcome the limitations of conventional offshore ones, which are mounted on structures fixed to the seabed and are difficult to install beyond depths of 60m. The floating structures can be deployed much further offshore, allowing them to harness the higher wind speeds out at sea.
Other countries, including France, Portugal, Spain and the US, are also developing floating wind technology and British industry is keen to maintain a head start to secure domestic jobs.
Some of Europe’s biggest energy companies, including SSE, Shell and Spain’s Iberdrola, are hoping to develop vast floating wind farms off Scotland’s coast in the early part of next decade after winning seabed rights in an auction in January.
The government said it was investing £160mn to “kick start” the floating offshore wind sector and saw it as an important part of the UK’s energy mix. “We need cheap, clean power, generated in the UK,” an ally of Kwarteng said.