Tories turning against Solar? (UPDATED)


The Government announcements this week that subsidies for solar farms are to be cut drastically came as no surprise to many. Renewables of all types are under attack on multiple fronts from back-bencher sniping to DCLG interfering with the planning appeals system.

Meanwhile new tax breaks for tearing up the countryside with fracking sites were announced in the Autumn statement, together with a promise for thousands of new jobs and cheap(er) gas. Presumabley these are to replace the thousands that were shed last year when the solar industry almost imploded after cuts exceeding 50% or the thousands more that will be lost as onshore wind and solar developers simply give up on the UK.  Only quite recently Danish giant Vestas pulled out of  a major wind turbine assembly plant in Kent.

So just why is the Government so keen to break their ‘green promise’, destroy an industry and loose thousands of jobs in order to promote fracking as the only way forward? The cynical reader might suspect powerful lobbying by the oil and gas industry or perhaps even vested interests coming to the fore. Whichever, it is becoming clear that a change of government may be needed if the migration to a low carbon economy is to become a reality.


If attacking wind wasn’t enough it now looks like the Conservatives have turned their attention to Solar PV. Planning Resource highlights a recent appeal case for a solar farm in Suffolk where the Planning Inspector independently ruled the proposals could go ahead only to be overturned by DCLG minister Eric Pickles who said:

“The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the harm to the character and appearance of the area would not amount to significant adverse effects but, nevertheless, considers the effect on the character of the site, although limited, would be adverse.”

This decision beggars belief and has caused warning bells to ring within the renewables industry.

It would appear this is further evidence of the current “fracking or bust” policy.

Its the gas price, stupid!

Following SSE’s announcement of energy price increases averaging 8.2% for its customers, the usual round of political finger pointing was in full evidence with climate-change-deniers and fossil-fuel-lobbiests all wading in.

The age old lie? That renewable energy and green policy is to blame. But is it?

SSE’s figures show that the price hike will average £93 a year for a typical household. Of that, £23 is due to increases in wholesale energy prices, £28 for re-investment back into the grid infrastructure and smart metering, £5 in VAT, £15 in “green taxes” and a remaining £23 which is “unaccounted” for bit includes SSE’s profit.

Official figures from OFGEM show  that support for renewables has added £15 to the average household annual energy bill of which on-shore wind accounts for just £4.68. In addition Government subsidy for most forms of renewable energy have been or are being cut significantly.

Gas prices have added over £120 per year per household.

With an ageing number of nuclear and dirty coal power stations being decommissioned and the Government hoping a second dash for gas to fill the gap, its no wonder they are so keen for fracking to be successful. Without fracking the UK will need to import ever more expensive LNG (liquid natural gas) in competition with global markets.

Over the forthcoming decades the increasing price of fossil fuels will  become an ever increasing financial burden on the UK, unless we act to reduce our dependency.

Planning: Fracking vs Wind

In an article this week Guardian columnist George Monbiot points out the disparity between planning policy applying to fracking sites and wind farms:

“Or compare fracking to wind power. The government is introducing a special veto for local people to prevent the construction of wind turbines. Downing Street explains it as follows: “The prime minister feels that it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to windfarms and that is why new legislation will be brought forward, so that if people don’t want windfarms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”

Strangely, he does not feel it is important for their views on drilling rigs to be taken into account. The government’s new planning guidance makes these developments almost impossible to refuse. Planners judging fracking applications are forbidden to consider alternatives to oil and gas. There will be “no standard minimum separation distance”, which means that a fracking rig could be erected right next to your house. And they “should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy”. If local voters don’t like it, they can go to hell.

Make no mistake, this Government has decided we will have fracking – like it not.


Huge subsidies for dirty coal?

Monday’s Independent reports that, according to Greenpeace, new subsidies worth £240m are to be paid to the owners of old and dirty coal fired power stations.  Joss Garman, deputy political director at Greenpeace, said:

“This latest subsidy, amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds taken from consumers’ bills, would keep the UK dependent on the dirtiest fuel of all for at least another decade, while simultaneously putting at risk investment in less polluting power systems,”

Apparently 12 of the 18 remaining coal stations are also set to become exempt from the CO2 emmission caps applied to all new plant and will no longer need to use CO2 capture and storage solutions.

Yet more proof that the “Greenest Government ever” promise is becoming more hollow by the week.

Sad day for CO2 targets

Yesterday’s failure in the House of Commons to secure legal targets for de-carbonisation are a blow to environmentalists and would-be investors in green tech alike.

Tory MP Tim Yeo had tabled an amendment (to the new Energy Bill) requiring hard targets for CO2 reduction measures be decided by 2014 that proved unpopular with the Treasury, preferring as they do to back shale (aka fracking) and convetional gas as a “quick fix” and to defer any decisions until after 2016. No surprise there as No. 10’s new energy adviser turns out to be an ex-gas company lobbyist!

The amendment was largely supported by green and wildlife groups, the renewables industry, Labour, SNP and the Green Party but was narrowly voted down by just 23 votes because, tweeted Labour leader Ed Milliband:

“Only about 15 Lib Dems backed their own policy of decarbonising the economy by 2030 in Commons vote. Huge missed opportunity”

Last month, government adviser the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) suggested that the carbon intensity of power generation be reduced to an average 50 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt hour by 2030 from the current 500 gCO2/kWh.

The CCC said this would limit new gas-fired power plants after 2020, unless they are fitted with the as yet commercially unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology or else as back-up for intermittent renewables.

Friends of the Earth head campaigner Andrew Pendleton commented:

“Investors say that they need certainty so they can make long-term investments in clean British energy. Without it we risk losing business overseas to countries that have made a clear commitment to developing a low-carbon future.”

..and as if to echo this exact sentiment a new report shows investment in green energy has fallen to a seven year low.

Renewables set to save UK £45bn

Yes, you read that correctly… A report published by the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and presented to Government ministers estimates a saving of £45bn if the UK electricity supply moves away from fossil fuels to nuclear and renewables. Put another way this represents a saving of £1600 for every UK household.

This of course is quite contrary to the propaganda spread by climate change deniers and ‘big oil’  lobbyists that opting for the renewables route will  cost everyone an arm-and-a-leg.

The report indicates that between 2010 and 2020 the switch to low carbon forms of energy would add around £100 per year to annual fuel bills. Of course that’s not to say the cost of fossil fuels will not also be increasing and the overall increases in energy costs must not be blames purely on renewables. UK gas prices are expected to jump significantly next year as long term supply contracts for LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) from Qatar are due to be renegotiated in light of increased demand from Europe and Japan following the Fukushima incident.

As noted by energy minister Ed Davey this week

“The real reason for high energy bills is high global gas prices. I can’t control global gas prices but I can put a cushion between the high global gas price that people face and the bills consumers pay,”

So if anything the report probably underestimates the long term prices for oil and gas. The CCC’s £45bn estimate represents the value of savings in today’s money that British households would collectively make between 2020 and 2050. It is based on expected changes in the price of gas and the penalties big companies will face for their carbon emissions and could potentially rise as high £100bn – or more than £3,000 per household – if those figures have been substantially underestimated.

The report will likely increase tensions between George Osborne’s dash-for-gas Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change secretary Ed Davey. Davey insists a decarbonisation target should be included in the Energy Bill and to apply from next year, while Osborne is pushing to defer a decision on whether to introduce a decarbonisation target until 2016.

To provide some balance it is good to note that at least some Conservative MPs support the CCC report such as Tim Yeo:

“There has clearly been quite a big attempt to portray decarbonisation as a huge burden to the consumer. But this report provides a robust rebuttal to that argument on anything but a short-term basis.”

UK air quality illegal rules supreme court

In a landmark ruling today the Supreme Court has ruled the UK government has failed in its duty to protect the population from the harmful and deadly effects of increasing levels of air pollution.

In terms of identifying the sources of harmful Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) a report from DEFRA shows the main culprits are industry, transport and energy generation.

Air pollution, according the Guardian, is the cause of 29,000 premature deaths in the UK each year and many more cases of heart and respiratory diseases.

Adding additional filtration or banning cars from town centres will only get you so far. What’s required is the mass-electrification of industry and transport.  As a country we need to move away from all forms of fossil based fuel towards renewable and clean sources of electricity.

Sure, renewables appear expensive in the short term, but economists predict that each barrel of oil displaced by alternative forms actually saves an economy many times these costs in the long term.

Fracking “unlikely to work” say experts

A 9 month enquiry led by former energy minister Charles Hendry has found that fracking is “unlikely” to deliver cheap and plentiful gas for the UK. Conversely PM David Cameron is on record as saying:

“We should take part in fracking because this might be a revolution and if we ignored it completely we could be giving our economy much higher energy prices than would otherwise be necessary” 

Fracking releases the gas from the rocks by blasting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into them. It has been linked to earth tremors and water pollution and was temporarily banned in the UK after causing two earthquakes in the Blackpool area.

Full report courtesy of the Independent here.

UK facing black-outs?

The BBC seems to think so. We’d tend to agree given the schizophrenic planning system in this country.

Energy Price History

Keeping the lights on

OFGEM report today that UK electricity generation capacity will drop by 10%..

Not this year… but by this April

This is despite several ageing nuclear power stations continuing to run well past their intended life span. George Osbourne’s new dash-for-gas it likely to represent only a short term fix as wholesale prices for imported gas continue to rise. In the meantime even some Tories has described the current policy as “short sighted and costly“.

As we have long argued, the UK needs to rapidly install as much renewable capacity as it possibly can – and quickly. While no one technology holds the answer the simple truth is that we need a lot more of everything – wind, solar, hydro, tidal, biomass just to keep the lights on, let alone to meet our future electricity needs.

UPDPATE (24/02/2013)

The Sunday Express today reports that nearly 1 million homes faced power cuts in January as National Grid scrambled to find enough electricity during the cold weather. The article claims that old power stations (currently due for imminent closure) were bought back on line to make up the shortfall. If the same happens again next year some parts of the UK could face black outs.