Industry must help shape news agenda

"It's global warming, stupid." That's the cover headline Bloomberg Businessweek magazine ran with following Hurricane Sandy's onslaught on the east coast of the US.

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A message to US voters as they prepared to choose between President Barack Obama and his less climate-conscious Republican opponent? Or merely recognition that this was another incidence of "weather on steroids" that might possibly be attributed to climate change?

While millions were left without power in the US after the hurricane, the UK was about to be hit by a political storm over renewable energy - while the annual conference of industry body RenewableUK was taking place.

A day that began in the UK with reports of how US citizens were coping with extreme weather conditions ended with Conservative junior energy minister John Hayes putting the boot into onshore wind, prompting "death knell to wind farms" headlines.

Addressing the conference delegates that evening, Hayes threw away his prepared speech, and talked "off message", with no mention of wind, a couple of references to renewables, and a few more mentions of tension in policy commitment, mixed portfolios and price. So far so good. But the following morning's newspapers revealed the original speech, leaked to the papers, that he had intended to deliver.

No more onshore wind farms, he said, beyond what is already in planning. Enough is enough. If he could not single-handedly create a "new Jersusalem", at least he could protect his "green and pleasant land". Not quite the message that his boss, a Liberal Democrat - the other party in the coalition government - was giving to an industry holding its breath as it awaited details of an imminent new energy bill.

One might question the timing of his comments, on the morning after fraternising - and not exactly being honest with - the UK renewables industry. One might more crucially ask whether his green and pleasant land is to have clean air and lights twinkling from the homes of citizens assured of electricity at a price they can afford?

For these are wind power's three compelling advantages: climate-protecting clean energy, security of supply, and cost without exposure to volatile markets. Surveys have shown that more than two thirds of the UK would be happy to see more wind turbines - but it is the active wind opponents who grab the headlines.

One month on from these storms, the US electorate has brought back one of the most wind-friendly presidents. China too, has a new government, one that talks of a "beautiful China" that attaches great importance to wind power. And UK newspapers report financial support for wind and renewables, but that the government has yet to confirm its future carbon-reduction policies. Will this persuade investors to support the industry in the UK and to create jobs?

The wind industry must talk as loudly as its opponents, and engage in these discussions. Otherwise, as is happening in the UK press, the headlines shout that government funding for renewables could push up consumer bills by more than £100 (EUR124) a year. What receives little mention is that the increase will not happen for ten years and, with fossil fuel prices likely to stay high, the cost could be much less. The industry has even better figures to report on the cost of wind energy - they need to talk about them.

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