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Greenpeace sets the agenda

The British government must take immediate steps to open up the huge UK offshore wind resource, says environment group Greenpeace. Wind, wave and solar energy are the three key technologies that could provide all the UK's electricity needs, the group claims in its report "New Power for Britain, A Strategy for a Renewable Energy Industry."

Greenpeace points to European Commission findings that the UK's wind resource up to 30 km from the coast could provide more than three times the country's annual electricity needs. Offshore wind farms could generate for as little as £0.045/kWh, competitive with coal and nuclear. But while emphasising the offshore potential, the report virtually ignores the contribution from onshore wind.

Wave power could provide the same amount as offshore wind, the report claims, while solar energy has the potential to generate two-thirds of the UK's electricity needs. Despite these vast resources, less than 1% of UK energy comes from renewables, and the country is at the bottom of the European energy league table, accuses Greenpeace.

The government's aim of providing 10% of electricity from renewables by 2010 is dismissed in the report as "narrow thinking" that will not exploit the full potential of the UK's renewable manufacturing industry. Renewables could create many thousands of jobs, it says. Whether the jobs are based in the UK depends entirely on British government policy and support, it adds.

Greenpeace calls on the government to reverse the decline in spending on renewables research and development. "For every £1 spent on supporting the development of renewable energy in the UK, fossil fuels have received over £100 in direct subsidies," it says. All subsidies to fossil fuels must be removed and transferred to a renewable energy program, the group demands. This will include expanding current support mechanisms like the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation.

As well as taking the lead in opening up offshore wind for development, Greenpeace says the government should adopt a minimum target of 70,000 solar homes by 2010 and restart the UK's wave energy program, ditched in 1994. These technologies, together with an ambitious energy efficiency program and other renewables such as hydro and biomass, could form the basis of a sustainable and clean energy policy. The UK should also set a series of progressive targets for renewables beyond 2010. This would lead to a fossil fuel phase out in the next 30 to 40 years.

Coinciding with the launch of its report, Greenpeace has published an opinion poll revealing that nearly 70% of parliament would back government investment in renewables to protect the climate. Out of a survey of 97 MPs, selected as a representative cross section of the House of Commons, 31% agreed strongly that the government should invest in a UK based renewable industry in order to be ready to replace fossil fuels; 38% per cent disagreed, while 15% were neutral. Only 16% disagreed or refused to answer. Marcus Rand from Greenpeace says: "This poll confirms Greenpeace's view that the majority of the public, industry and politicians want serious government action on renewables" .

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