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Dods Renewable Energy Dialogue

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The Government has ‘absolute commitment’ to the offshore wind industry, Laura Sandys MP has said in a Conservative conference fringe meeting.

The prime minister opening the London Array wind farm showed the government's "absolute commitment" to the offshore wind industry, claimed Sandys in a Dods Renewable Energy Dialogue fringe event.

Opening the event, Andrew Norman, CEO at JDR Cables explained that JDR manufactured subsea cables used in the oil and gas and offshore wind industries.

In offshore wind, JDR led the way in getting wind energy from offshore wind farms onto the grid, and employed over 400 people in the UK, he added.

Norman argued offshore wind could and should be part of a sustainable energy mix, and there should not be an over-reliance on single technologies or companies.

JDR were constantly developing technologies to drive down costs, he noted.

Turning to policy challenges, Norman said policy uncertainty was close to scaring off investors.

Norman emphasised the importance of the UK manufacturing supply chain in offshore wind energy, noting that too much business still went abroad.

Steve Kingshott, global director for construction and engineering and renewable energy at the RSA said they were a leading insurer in renewable energy, and were involved in around 80 per cent of wind energy in northern Europe.

Lowering costs in offshore wind energy would result in lower capital cost and a lower risk, which Kingshott explained therefore, lowered the insurance premium.

He added there was a need to develop a really strong export story for renewable energy.

Kingshott welcomed the government's offshore wind strategy, noting the number offshore wind jobs had doubled since 2010.

Although there were lots of opportunities for the UK, there was also a danger in the form of political and policy uncertainty, Kingshott added.

He said uncertainty in Europe may prompt investors to look to Asia and Africa to invest.

Ramsay Dunning, chief executive at Co-operative Energy said there was an "extremely longstanding" interest in energy in the Co-operative movement.

He noted 1 in 200 households had actively taken the decision to leave their supplier and come to Co-operative Energy.

The company had a commitment to customers that their carbon content on bills would be half as much as that of the big six.

Dunning then spoke of the importance of community energy, and said he was pleased that energy minister Greg Barker had singled out community energy as an area to take forward.

Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet and PPS to energy minister Greg Barker said there had been a culture of negligence from the Labour Party with regard to the offshore wind industry.

In 2010, she explained, the London Array wind farm had been in development for five years, yet the government had not helped to get a supply chain in place, and had not encouraged skills growth in the area.

The operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms were highly specialised skills, and Sandys said building this skills base in the UK was very important to the future of the industry.

Turning the benefits offshore wind could bring to coastal towns, Sandys spoke of the "boom" which some towns had seen on the back the proliferation of offshore wind farms.

She said that even fisherman were now working closely and effectively with offshore wind operators.

At national level, Sandys reminded the meeting that it was the prime minister who opened the London Array, showing an "absolute commitment from the top of the UK government" to the offshore wind energy.

The supply chain was still an area which needed some work, Sandys continued, saying it was difficult get a picture of who was actually involved.

She too spoke about the importance of a distributed energy system, and referenced the upcoming community energy strategy, due in the autumn.

Chairing the panel, Tony Grew asked if it was frustrating that some climate sceptics came from within Sandys' own party.

Sandys said that while she was open to debating all issues, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change left no question that climate change was occurring.

Responding to some of the points made, Dunning remarked that demand reduction was an area which tended to get side-lined in the debate on energy policy.

Kingshott agreed and said the UK was behind the curve on energy efficiency, and said more money should be focused on research and development.

Norman reiterated an earlier point that political stability would result in a long term agreement on energy policy.

Sandys agreed, but warned that Ed Miliband's price freeze announcement was the first departure away from consensus.

Question and answer session

A delegate questioned the necessity of the speed of decarbonisation, and the money that was required to undertake such a change.

Sandys argued the current grid system was falling apart, old nuclear and coal was coming offline, and something had to be done.

The delegate then asked about the lifespan of offshore wind pipelines.

Norman noted that the cost of offshore wind energy would come down, but the cost of hydrocarbons would continue to rise as less and less was available.

He also added that the design life of cables is around 30 years.

A councillor questioned whether global warming was an "international hoax," and added that wind farms were killing birds, falling over and raking in huge taxpayer subsidies.

Dunning argued that community based models of energy allowed communities to have final say in what energy was being generated in a particular area.

Norman added that contrary to popular belief, the wind industry operated on very small margins, adding that there were risks involved with all types of generation in the energy mix.

Another delegate raised questions over climate change, and questioned the need for decarbonisation.

Dunning said there was an "overwhelming scientific case for climate change".

Kingshott noted that risk could be associated with many different types of technologies, whether they were renewable or traditional sources of energy.

Norman echoed this point about risk.

Dunning added that although the atmospheric temperature rise has not been as high over the last 15 years, the ocean temperature has risen dramatically during this period.

He called the trend "undeniable".

Laura Sandys MP made these comments after the meeting ended

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