Johnson Backs Green Investment as Cure for U.K. Covid Slump

Source: By Thomas Penny, Bloomberg • Posted: Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Boris Johnson pledged to boosting U.K. offshore wind power as part of his delayed plan for a “green industrial revolution” as he seeks to get his stalled domestic agenda back on course.

In a speech aimed at regaining a grip of the political agenda after months of negative headlines over his handling of the pandemic, the prime minister said renewable energy can help drive Britain’s economic regeneration. He announced 160 million pounds ($208 million) for infrastructure at ports to support companies building turbines off the British coast.

“As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the U.K. is to wind — a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without the carbon emissions and without the damage to the environment,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We believe that in 10 years time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country.”

Johnson also touted the benefits of carbon capture and storage technology, nuclear power, solar panels, hydrogen, home insulation and heat pumps as a way to help the U.K. reach its target to zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and create highly skilled “green collar jobs”.

Johnson is seeking ways to rebuild the Covid-ravaged U.K. economy and to tackle a surge in joblessness expected once government employment support falls away at the end of the month. Helping the environment is a key part of his agenda to fuel growth and return to the program he set out before his decisive election victory last December. Since then, his ratings in polls have collapsed.

By stimulating the offshore wind industry, Johnson is seeking to maintain a lead in the technology that the U.K. has developed. With almost 10 gigawatts of installed turbines, Britain leads Germany, China and Denmark in building turbines at sea, according to BloombergNEF data. As the cost of the machines falls, everywhere from Brazil to the U.S. is seeking to catch up.

For the U.K., offshore wind can be both a source of green jobs to replace those wiped out by the pandemic and a source of prestige ahead of the United Nations climate talks, which convene in a year in Glasgow.

‘Get to Net-Zero’

Tuesday’s remarks, to his Conservative Party’s annual conference, are a foretaste of a 10-point program for green industries the prime minister is planning to unveil later this year. It will include support for innovation and infrastructure, his office said, without giving a specific date for the announcement.

U.K. PM Johnson Delivers Keynote At Conservative Party Virtual Conference

Boris Johnson delivers his speech at the Conservative Party virtual conference on Oct. 6. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The broader package will help build hydrogen as a fuel for heavy industry, spur carbon capture technology and a ban on the sale of petrol cars, according to two people familiar with Johnson’s thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are private.

“This investment in offshore wind alone will help to create 60,000 jobs in this country — and help us to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” Johnson told delegates. Wider investment in green technologies “in the next 10 years will create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs,” he said.

The prime minister had been expected to give a green recovery speech in September, but the timetable slipped because of the pandemic, according to two of the people.

Britain aims to zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the measures would seek to drive investment to reach that goal. Ministers have repeatedly touted the benefits of clean technologies to help the U.K. “build back better and build back greener.”

The speech also:
  • reaffirmed an aim to generate 40 gigawatts of power from offshore wind by 2030, more than four times the current capacity
  • set a target of 1 gigawatt of floating wind power by 2030
  • pledged to double the support for renewable energy in the next year in an auction for contracts-for-difference, a mechanism used to ensure payments to power generators

The commitment to wind power marks a change in approach for Johnson, who as recently as 2013 said the U.K. would be better relying on energy production from shale gas and nuclear power plants.

In his conference speech he made a wry acknowledgment that he had once “sneered” at wind turbines when he wrote in an article for the Sun on Sunday newspaper that wind turbines turn so slowly they “wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding.”

But on Tuesday, he said offshore wind was the key to the U.K.’s maritime successes and that people criticize wind turbines had forgotten history.

“It was offshore wind that puffed the sails of Drake and Raleigh and Nelson and propelled this country to commercial greatness,” he said.

(Updates with more details on speech)