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Cornwall’s ambition to lead UK’s post-COVID green recovery

Cornwall could play a vital national role in the UK’s post-pandemic recovery efforts with a green recovery plan that puts floating wind power, geothermal energy and lithium mining for electric car batteries at the heart of its economic future.

Cornwall’s business and industry leaders say thousands of new jobs can be created if Ministers back plans to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy in the wake of COVID-19.

They are calling for Government investment to support:

  • The large scale deployment of floating wind technology in the Celtic Sea with potential to power 170,000 homes, create 3,200 jobs and attract £682 million of private investment by 2030.
  • The creation of Europe’s first lithium recovery plant in Cornwall to provide a domestic supply of lithium, a key component of battery technology with demand expected to triple by 2025.
  • Subsidies for deep geothermal pilot projects to help attract more investment. Cornwall has the best geothermal resources in the country, with potential to provide electricity to 150,000 Cornish homes.

The creation of the Cornwall Institute of Space, a consortium of industry and universities to focus on space-related artificial intelligence and data analytics, including earth observation and climate change.

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “Our message to No 10 is that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can drive the UK’s low carbon recovery and lead global innovation in high value industries with huge export potential, creating thousands of jobs.

“If the Government is serious about levelling up the UK economy and being a world leader in tackling climate change, then this is Cornwall’s time.”

The Prime Minister has already called for a post-Depression style Roosevelt New Deal for the UK to aid recovery. He has promised to “double down” on his election commitment to level up the economy, saying: “This is the time to invest in infrastructure, this is the time to make those long-term decisions for the good of the country.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma, president of next year’s Cop26 UN climate conference, has established a green recovery working group to look at how to seize economic growth opportunities from the move to a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Cornwall plans to hit that target 20 years earlier in 2030, and already generates 37% of its electricity from renewable sources compared to just 6% in 2009.

Now the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP has put together a recovery plan to rejuvenate what has been one of the worst-hit regional economies during the pandemic. It is part of a wider investment prospectus with neighbouring LEPs to promote the Great South West as a champion of ‘green and blue’ (marine) economic growth.

Cornwall’s traditional reliance on tourism, combined with higher than average numbers of small businesses and self-employed people, means its economy has been severely impacted by coronavirus with an estimated 72,800 jobs at risk – or 27% of the workforce – according to Cornwall Council.

But it is also in the vanguard of emerging low carbon industries thanks to its wind and solar climate, geological resources and technical expertise. And it boasts a growing space industry cluster, together with strong digital and creative sectors.

Cornwall built the UK’s first commercial windfarm almost 30 years ago and is working with the Welsh and Irish governments on plans to build floating wind farms in the Celtic Sea, promising green electricity for tens of thousands of homes and rejuvenating ports and coastal towns.

The LEP’s green recovery plan has been welcomed by blue economy project developer Simply Blue Energy, which has an office at Newquay and in March this year announced plans to develop floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea with Total, one of the world’s largest energy companies.

Christoph Harwood, Director of Policy & Strategy at Simply Blue Energy, said: “Floating wind technology has the potential to create thousands of jobs and achieve a step change in the transition to a low carbon economy. With a further increase in support from the UK government this technology can bring significant opportunities to the businesses and people of Cornwall.”

Cornwall has the best ‘hot rock’ geothermal resources in the country, with £40m already being invested in two deep geothermal pilot projects, one at United Downs near Redruth and the other at the world-famous Eden Project, to generate heat and electricity. The LEP is calling for subsidy support to boost the new industry.

Augusta Grand, Executive Director of Eden Geothermal Ltd, said: “Geothermal is the missing link to the low carbon future: a renewable source of heat and power that is on 24/7, whatever the weather, on a very small surface footprint. It uses techniques and equipment from oil and gas drilling, providing an opportunity for the UK’s fossil fuel developers to be ‘born again’ into a renewable industry. Geothermal will mean the Eden Project becomes carbon positive, and can support high value local jobs and industries such as minerals, food processing, horticulture and, with all that hot water, year-round spas and water based sport and leisure.”

And Cornwall’s minerals reserves, which saw it drive the first Industrial Revolution thanks to its massive deposits of tin and copper, includes one of the largest untapped sources of lithium in Europe (a key component in electric car battery technology), and globally significant deposits of tin and tungsten.

These deposits are attracting a new wave of high-tech exploration companies from around the world and the LEP is calling for the Government to support the creation of Europe’s first lithium recovery plant in Cornwall.

Jeremy Wrathall, founder and Chief Executive of mineral exploration company Cornish Lithium said: “Cornish Lithium aims to create a sustainable and environmentally responsible lithium extraction industry in Cornwall. Based on our work so far, and Cornwall’s long history of mineral extraction, we believe that the county is ideally placed to play a vital part in Britain’s aspirations to lead Europe in electric vehicles and battery technology and to become the ‘Battery Metals Hub’ for the UK economy.”

By harnessing these natural assets, the LEP’s ambition is for Cornwall to be at the heart of a green recovery plan that tackles carbon emissions and creates quality jobs for local people.

More than £130m is already being invested in low carbon projects in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, ranging from smart grid and community electric vehicle trials on Scilly, to local energy networks and battery storage projects.

The LEP, in partnership with Cornwall Council, is also seeking Government backing for a large scale retrofit programme of local authority housing to include rooftop solar panels and ground source heat pumps. This will reduce carbon emissions, help tackle fuel poverty and build local skills.