Dr Jonathan Scurlock is the NFU's chief renewable energy and climate change adviser.
Clean energy is in the firing line. Beginning with the Conservative manifesto commitment to limit the growth of wind power, the list of revisions to government policy on green measures just goes on growing.
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And in a few months’ time, the Secretary of State for Energy, Amber Rudd, will attend the Paris summit on greenhouse gas emissions and probably claim that Britain still leads the world in tackling climate change. The incompatibility (nay, even hypocrisy) of this is already attracting comment.
Policies put to the sword include:
- Ending ‘new subsidies’ for onshore wind
- Tougher planning guidance for all new wind turbine applications
- Closing the Renewables Obligation for solar PV under 5 megawatts
- Ending ‘pre-accreditation’ for Feed-In Tariff projects
- Removing guaranteed support levels under the Renewables Obligation for new solar and some biomass projects
- Making renewables pay the ‘climate change’ levy on energy bills
- Closing the Green Deal for homeowners’ energy efficiency loans
- Postponing the zero carbon homes target
- Revising Vehicle Excise Duty so that most cars pay the same rate after their first year
So what is to be done? Is all of the above justifiable as part of the new Conservative mandate to govern? It could be argued that ‘green growth’ policies have simply become too complex, and a bonfire of regulations and administrative burden is needed in order to save costs for both government officials and private sector investors alike.
Perhaps the ‘market failure’ of fossil fuel emissions might be better addressed by simple measures such as a comprehensive carbon tax, as long as this was fairly and scientifically applied?
Critics of the government believe that this new agenda is driven more by ideology than by evidence.
Indeed, in its July Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast substantially increased spending on green policies under the Levy Control Framework. However, no detailed methodology or figures were provided - even though these projections have been used to justify the proposed cost control measures.
Critics of the Government believe that this new agenda is driven more by ideology than by evidence, grounded in an assumption that what is good for the environment is bad for business.
According to some energy policy conservatives, renewables have been almost too successful, exceeding the previous government’s expectations that they would remain marginal rather than becoming mainstream. This is worrying. Many farmers have already concluded that diversifying their agricultural businesses with clean energy production is a sensible way of supporting profitable farming and enhancing Britain’s food security in a volatile world.
The policy changes listed above are creating increased uncertainty for investors, as the CBI has repeatedly warned: our NFU Farming Manifesto specifically asked for greater consistency in low-carbon energy strategy.
In the absence of a strong political opposition, the way forward must be to engage with pro-business advocates that champion the green economy and the greening role of small-to-medium sized enterprises. The pendulum must surely swing back eventually towards more progressive policies that challenge the current Cabinet orthodoxy, and key decisions (such as a commitment in 2016 to completely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030, strongly advocated by the independent Committee on Climate Change) are needed to signpost the way.
We may find the answer in some of the recent statements by the Energy Secretary herself; that tackling climate change is not the exclusive preserve of an anti-growth, anti-capitalist Red-Green axis, that Britain needs to share in the dramatic boom in global clean energy investment, that the private sector should lead the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Now that is something that even Margaret Thatcher herself might have approved.