Don't Gamble With Our Energy Supply

15/02/2012 22:41 GMT | Updated 16/04/2012 10:12 BST

Betting on short-term returns doesn't bring long-term security or stability. That's one lesson we have all learned from the current economic crisis. It applies equally acutely to the debate on how the UK should generate a secure and cost-effective supply of energy. We can't afford to focus on quick fixes such as importing expensive fossil fuels from abroad. That exposes us to fluctuating global energy prices; wholesale gas prices have gone up by 40% in the last twelve months. Renewable sources, such as wind, wave and tidal energy, give us a way of escaping fossil fuel price shocks. They also offer us an unprecedented opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs, and to become a global exporter of low-carbon energy technologies.

At present some sections of the media are arguing that we can't afford renewable energy. In fact the direct opposite is true. This week we have witnessed gas prices rocket by almost 50% as Europe suffers a cold snap. Ofgem, the independent energy regulator confirms that the fluctuating wholesale price of gas has been the driving force behind the recent increases in our energy bills. On top of this our reliance on imported fossil fuels from Russia and the Middle East raises questions about the security of supply.

I believe that it's important to have a wide range of sources in our energy portfolio to meet our needs. Renewable sources form a key part of that mix, already generating about 9% of our electricity, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The government is calling for a fivefold increase in wind energy, onshore and offshore, by 2020. Last week saw the world's largest offshore wind farm open off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, reaffirming the UK's global lead in the sector. It will generate enough power to supply 320,000 homes.

Ofgem's figures show that the current cost to UK households of developing all forms of renewable energy, including wind, is less than £20 a year. For less than 40p a week, we can develop a thriving UK-based renewable sector, including wave and tidal energy, which will provide secure, cost-effective and clean energy for generations to come.

This long-term vision will deliver tens of thousands of jobs in some of the most economically challenged areas of the country, reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and creating new export markets in countries such as China and India. It will also provide a boost to small and local businesses across the country, as the government has recently announced that it will ensure that 50% of the supply chain driving the wind energy industry would be home-grown.

We expect to have nearly 90,000 people working in the UK's wind industry and the supply chain by 2021. Multinational companies are planning to open up large factories to manufacture the next generations of offshore wind turbines. The wind industry already employs nearly 12,000 people in the UK. It will provide many more jobs for our children and grandchildren if we have the foresight to embrace the opportunity to build a low-carbon economy.