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The renewable energy sector is playing a key role in helping the UK to get through this crisis

By Luke Clark, Director of Strategic Communications, RenewableUK

Ever since the world changed, most of the questions involving the renewable energy sector which have cropped up time and again over the past few weeks revolve around two themes: how is the industry faring during the Coronavirus pandemic and how is it contributing to the national effort to get through it?

The answers are inevitably numerous, long and complex. Like everyone else, we have had to readjust and adapt quickly and radically. Our overriding concern is the safety of our workforce and that of the public. We all have a key role to play in stopping the spread of the virus by following the Government’s advice.

First there are the practical measures; helping companies in the renewable energy sector to access the support for businesses set out by the Chancellor. We’re working with the hundreds of companies we represent, including the many small and medium sized members in our supply chain, to provide advice, and to feed back directly to Government on what they need to get through.

We’re also consulting with Ministers on how the energy industry can play its part in the national effort to continue to provide vital services. The Government has designated energy as a critical sector for the UK. We are keeping hospitals, homes and businesses powered up. Working within clear safety rules, we are maintaining vital infrastructure to keep the lights on. This means that although as many of us as possible are working from home, some site visits have to be undertaken with extra care. Working closely with health and safety authorities, we have published new guidelines for workers on wind farms which make it clear that only workers who have a critical role in keeping wind farms operating or under construction should travel to any site, and they should travel independently of one another. Working hours should be staggered to allow staff to collect tools, equipment and other materials at different times. Companies must have effective arrangements in place to ensure workers comply with Government guidance on social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, wearing gloves and other protective equipment, washing hands and notifying their managers of any symptoms. By taking these essential steps, and many others outlined in the detailed guidance, we are ensuring that we work in safety.

We need to keep the future pipeline of projects on track too, to avoid losing capacity in the years ahead. During our regular contacts with BEIS, Ministers have made it clear that the timetable for the consultation on the next CfD auction remains unchanged. This gives industry the confidence going forward to attract investment in much-needed new capacity over the course of this decade. We can continue to make good progress towards the Government’s net zero emissions target. Despite the unprecedented situation facing all of us, it is important to carry on replacing vital capacity with new projects so that the UK doesn’t slide backwards. We need to ensure we maintain security of supply for the long term and make progress on the other global challenge of our times, tackling climate change.

The next major global climate change summit, COP26, is expected to take place in some form next year, with the UK playing a leading role as hosts. Postponing the summit was of course the right decision, but reducing emissions as rapidly as possible remains a key global priority, even as we tackle Coronavirus. We need to see Governments accelerating their plans to attract investment in technologies which will not only help us to reach our climate change targets, but will also support economic recovery in the years ahead.

All that is yet to come. In the meantime, we also have to focus on what we can do here and now to help in the national effort to get through the immediate crisis. It’s great to see so many renewable energy companies using their expertise, resources and funding in imaginative ways to support the Covid response nationally and in local communities. There are many examples of excellent initiatives; one of our offshore wind members, James Fisher & Sons based in Cumbria, has used its extensive experience in the offshore diving industry to design ventilators for the NHS and can produce 2,000 of them a week. Another offshore wind supply chain member, Tekmar in Newton Aycliffe, has turned its skills to manufacturing protective face shields for front line medical staff and donating them to NHS Trusts in the north east of England. innogy's Brechfa Forest West wind farm community fund is being used in an innovative project to buy 3D printers which are supplying local NHS hospitals with protective clothing, visors and ventilator parts, as well as PPE for community nurses and care workers. Vattenfall’s workers at Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm in Barrow-in-Furness are distributing PPE to local hospitals and key workers. Community funds from EDF Renewables’ Burnfoot Hill onshore wind farm in Clackmannanshire are being used to provide food shopping and pharmacy collection services for local people unable to leave their homes, and to set up a helpline to reduce the impact of social isolation and support mental health.

For years, wind farms have played a key role in regenerating local communities; these are just a few examples of how that work is being extended in ways we could never have imagined, to provide some relief at an unprecedented time of need.

(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen)



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