Going green is not an easy option

PIONEERING work by the island’s Renewable Energy Team has answered the crucial question about the quest for what used to be called alternative energy: Yes, Guernsey does have abundant reserves of wind, tidal and wave power.

PIONEERING work by the island’s Renewable Energy Team has answered the crucial question about the quest for what used to be called alternative energy: Yes, Guernsey does have abundant reserves of wind, tidal and wave power.

That they exist and are in areas that are available to be exploited means further investigations can be carried out about whether and how these energy sources should be used.

Now that the fundamental issue has been addressed – that useable amounts exist – assessing phase two can begin: how will investment be funded and who will pay for it.

In some respects, the RET’s research has made life more uncomfortable. If wind and tidal power were non-starters, Guernsey would simply continue drawing from the European grid and top that up as needed with its on-island capability.

Now, particularly as sustainability, environmental and good neighbour considerations are part of the States Strategic Plan, government will sooner or later have to consider how fully it embraces renewables.

The first step is already in train. Putting in a second cable link with Jersey and France is an immediate requirement and it is only by being able to export any excess power that developing renewable sources becomes truly efficient.

Electricity locally is not cheap and the new cable will make it more expensive. That is unavoidable. At this stage, however, ‘green’ costs are voluntary – and substantial.

Engineering consultants Mott MacDonald in a 2012 study for charity Civitas said the total price of offshore wind power was ‘exorbitant’ and there was no economic case for it.

Nevertheless, many islanders would be prepared to pay a small amount more to reduce their carbon footprint because they can afford to do so and believe it is the right thing to do. Others are not in that position, however, and already struggle to meet their energy bills.

The RET’s work has been invaluable in removing the first obstacle and in showing the need for further research.

Perhaps its greatest contribution has been in providing impartial information that can start an informed debate on how Guernsey progresses meeting its future energy needs.

One conclusion is, however, inescapable. There are no cheap or easy answers.