The UK Government has today announced a new set of contracts that it’s awarding to support renewable energy technologies. The price offered to offshore wind has fallen by around half compared to 2015. This demonstrates how substantially the cost of renewable energy has fallen over recent years. Offshore wind is becoming very cost competitive compared to fossil fuel technologies.

Offshore wind turbine, rspb-images.com

But while offshore wind farms may now be more cost-effective than ever to deploy, it is important they are not sited in areas that are damaging for wildlife. As we work to address the urgent climate crisis we must avoid contributing to the biodiversity crisis. We have seen some great examples of progress in this area recently in developments off the East Anglian coast where the RSPB has worked closely with the developer to ensure wind farms can progress in a way that minimises the risk of harm to birds. Fixed offshore wind can, however, pose serious risks to seabirds and other wildlife, so ensuring it is sited sensitively is crucial. The development of floating offshore wind, an emerging technology which can be located further offshore, may help to reduce these risks.

Onshore wind and solar farms can already be delivered without support and the RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision sees a significant role for these technologies to meet our climate targets in harmony with nature. But support for onshore wind had substantial cuts to subsidy in recent years.

At the same time the UK Government continues to support outdated fossil fuel technologies such as fracking, which is both costly and more environmentally risky. The environmental costs of this technology are not factored into spending decisions.

We know that fracking poses serious risks to both the climate and to wildlife. And geologists have recently determined that it may be much harder and more costly to extract gas or oil from the UK’s geology than previously thought.

All of this leaves us asking why the UK Government is pursuing an environmentally risky and costly strategy. Instead they could be doing a lot more to support low-cost technologies where we know the environmental risks can be sensibly and meaningfully minimised through spatial planning. We hope that some of these policy anomalies will be addressed through the forthcoming Clean Growth Plan. This plan needs to bring the UK back on track for meeting our carbon targets and put us on a path to a clean low carbon future.

By Melanie Coath, Senior Policy Officer, and Matt Williams, Policy Officer.