From our island off the south coast of England – surrounded by sea water gushing up and down the English Channel – I read with interest the article by Greg Barker MP (the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change) to coincide with his launch of the UK’s second Marine Energy Park in Scotland.
This interest was sparked because my native territory – the Isle of Wight – has the ambition of being the third such location; and in doing so help deliver a key commitment of the Coalition Government to secure the development a diverse range of renewable energy technologies.
On the Isle of Wight, we are playing a key leadership role in co-ordinating a marine energy project immediately off our shores – where we have some of the strongest tidal currents in the country.
Our project includes £1m of council investment – complemented by financial backing from the private sector and technical support from the University of Southampton – to bring to fruition our plans for a Solent Ocean Energy Centre. We have also applied for £1m in matched funding from the Regional Growth Fund.
Don’t get me wrong – the Isle of Wight Council does not have ambitions to manage a publicly-owned renewable energy generation plant. Far from it. On the contrary, we are using our local leadership role to bring together partners from the private and higher education sectors to unlock the Island’s shores as a prime location for developing the next generation of industry investment in marine energy technology. As Greg Barker has said, subsidy can only be a pump primer – it has to stand on its own two feet in the long-term.
We are pursuing this for two key reasons. Firstly – as I have stated – our tidal currents offer this potential. But, secondly – and just as importantly – we believe that this renewable energy project sits comfortably with our commitment to protect the Island's outstanding natural environment and our ambitions to strengthen the local economy and provide high quality jobs in the Solent area.
With the Isle of Wight having an established history over many decades of developing and manufacturing products that put Britain at the forefront of the international technological revolution, we believe that the Island’s reputation in this regard can continue by offering ourselves as a prime location for the development of appropriate renewable energy projects.
We recently met with Greg Barker and believe he was impressed at our ambitious plans – and he was pleased to see new energy initiatives being developed in Britain. He backed this up by his words on Conservative Home, in which he acknowledged that progress on harnessing the power of the sea had stalled under Labour. It must stall no more, particularly as tidal energy is increasingly recognised as a more reliable and less intrusive form of renewable energy generation – which (unlike onshore wind) does not have the potential to adversely impact on our landscape.
The Isle of Wight Council believes that energy from tidal flows should be the preferred energy source for Great Britain. We are already world leaders in the industry and a chain, or ‘brotherhood’, of tidal generators and marine parks around the British Isles should be the preferred choice to help a renewable future. This roll-out can start off the coast of our Island.
We hope that our approach will be seen as a good example of how local authorities can use their newly-bestowed general powers of competence (under the Localism Act), coupled with their ambitions for boosting local economies through their participation in Local Enterprise Parrtnerships, to enable the delivery of projects outside of their traditional remit.
Our aspiration is to see the Isle of Wight generating enough energy to become self-sufficient within a decade. We believe that is a laudable ambition for a local authority to have and one which provides a prime opportunity to achieve something life-changing for the community we serve.
Greg Barker referred to “the potential to unlock another revolution, cleaner, greener and one which we can export to the world”.
What better place to start than on the Isle of Wight?