Mixed Messages on Renewable Future from Amber Rudd

David Cameron told a UN climate-change conference in September 2014: “We need to give business the certainty it needs to invest in low carbon. That means fighting against the economically and environmentally perverse fossil‑fuel subsidies.”

On 18th June this year Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd told Parliament; “The Government are committed to meeting objectives on cutting carbon emissions and the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets …

My Department’s analysis indicates that, after taking into account an early closure, onshore wind deployment under the RO [Renewables Obligation] will be in the region of 11.6 GW … this puts us above the middle of the range set out in the EMR [Electricity Market Reform] delivery plan, our best estimate of what we would need to meet our 2020 targets. It is therefore appropriate to curtail further deployment of onshore wind, balancing the interests of onshore wind developers with those of the wider public.

So, all is well then and David Cameron is leading the battle to reduce carbon emissions while his trusty Energy Secretary has got it all under control when it comes to plans to de-carbonise the energy market?

No.

Since the election in May 2015 this Government has:

  • Scrapped subsidies for onshore wind turbines despite the investment it attracts and it being the cheapest, most cost-effective form of renewable energy. But it isn’t just about the money – planning hoops have got smaller and higher off the ground making it nigh on impossible to get planning permission,
  • Closed the Renewable Obligation support for larger solar farms of less than 5MW and is about to slash Feed in Tariffs to next to nothing. This is despite their admission that scrapping subsidies to the solar industry would save energy consumers a mere 50p per year,
  • Removing the Renewable Obligation support for coal and other fossil fuelled power stations converting to wood or other biomass fuels
  • Killed off the Green Deal thus removing the only assistance for most householders when trying to make their homes more energy efficient. They have, as yet, done nothing to replace it,
  • Selling off up to 70% of the Green Bank
  • Scrapped the Road Tax incentive for people to run more environmentally friendly cars
  • Binned the requirement for zero-carbon homes from 2016 – a move that has been universally condemned by house builders, planners and green groups,
  • Removing as many planning hurdles for fracking as they can get away with. Councils are being expected to determine applications within a very short timescale despite each application so far producing a library full of documents for planners and councillors to attempt to digest.
  • Preparing to scar our countryside. Before the election Amber Rudd said that fracking would not be allowed in sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs). She has now changed her mind and even our National Parks, such as the Peak District, are threatened.
  • Removed Pre-accreditation for new renewable energy schemes being planned. This gave those planning schemes, -such as community energy companies including our very own Amber and Derwent Valley Community Energy (ADVyCE) – some degree of certainty when forecasting revenues and seeking investment. Many community energy schemes up and down the country are packing up and calling it a day because of this one measure alone,
  • Removed investment incentives – EIS Tax Relief – specifically for community energy schemes thus making attracting investment nigh on impossible

But we don’t need all this new renewable energy because Amber Rudd says we are on track, right?

No.

A leaked letter from Amber Rudd to Philip Hammond (Foreign Secretary), Oliver Letwin (Cabinet Office), Greg Hands (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Patrick McLoughlin (Transport Secretary) begins by setting out the scale of what the UK has to achieve:

The target sets a legally binding obligation on HMG to deliver 15% of the UK’s final energy consumption across electricity, heat and transport from renewable sources in 2020, with a binding sub-target for 10% of transport fuels to be from renewable sources in 2020. “Beyond a flat rate of renewables for each member state, the effort share for meeting the EU-wide 20% target was based on GDP. As a result of this, and the fact that the UK started from a very low base of renewables deployment, our target requires amongst the most significant annual growth in renewables deployment (16% average annual growth from 2011 to 2020) of any member state.

The message is clear, in statement after statement, she told Parliament that everything was going to plan towards meeting renewable energy targets. But she sets out the truth in her leaked letter. Until 2017 / 2018 the UK will be achieving its milestones, she writes, but after that

“The trajectory then increases substantially, and currently leads to a shortfall against the target in 2020 of around 50 TWh (with a range of 32 – 67TWh) or 3.5% points (with a range of 2.1 – 4.5% points) in our internal central forecasts (which are not public). Publically we are clear that the UK continues to make progress to meet the target.”

So how does Amber Rudd propose to meet legally binding obligations by 2020?

Basically, she has asked her colleagues for help and is looking to renewable heat and low carbon fuels for salvation. Having said that there is an admission that it will be difficult to grow enough crops to fuel our cars and heat our homes. If that doesn’t work, well, there are other alternatives:

  • Buy it from Norway. There are big problems with this as the connecting grid won’t be ready until 2021 and is unlikely to be a legal get-out for a 2020 legally binding target. Spending on renewables here would be much cheaper,
  • Buy in ‘statistical credits’ from other countries. This is a bit like buying in from other EU countries who have done the right thing and exceeded their targets. But it is buying the production – not selling it to UK homes and businesses. Why on earth would any sane person consider this option rather than spend the money on renewable energy in the UK?

Friends of Oil

At the same time this Government is giving fossil fuel industries about twice the financial support given to renewable energy. A study by the Overseas Development Institute concludes they are giving nearly £6billion per year to fossil fuel industries. £5.9billion is being given to firms such as Shell and BP to help boost North Sea production. They have now introduced a new North Sea tax break that will be worth £1.7billion over the next five years. At the same time renewable energy subsidies were running at £3.5billion per year and are set to be slashed.

One could be forgiven for looking at Amber Rudd and judging her incompetent. That or having her credibility, common sense, idealism and purpose crushed out of her by Osborne’s determination to cut, cut and cut again whilst supporting friends of the Tory Party who run big business and depend on fossil fuels. One could be forgiven for believing Osborne’s PR man when he pops up from the Chancellor’s jacket breast pocket to spout rubbish – but not any more. If David Cameron said ‘good morning’ I’d wonder why it was a bad afternoon.

One day history will judge them – and it may be the difference between murder and manslaughter – when future generations accuse them of crimes against humanity.

By David George

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