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Battening down the hatches against the wind

July 28, 2010

1997 and the days of boom and prosperity weren’t so very long ago, in the context of the sweeping span of human history and society. 

If only the New Labour politicians of the day had displayed the same enthusiasm for green energy investment and job creation as our current Coalition government, then we would already be on our way to meeting our EU green energy obligations and well placed for a low-carbon future.

But here we are in 2010, crawling painfully out of the economic mire, and the public coffers are like sweetie jars after a tuck shop raid.  This leads us to fears expressed by observers of the microgeneration world: namely that FITs will go the same way as HIPs, only they’ll be missed.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the acronyms, that’s Feed-in Tariffs and Home Information Packs).

Everything comes down to money.  If the Government wants to act on its ambitious vision for our future energy system, investment has to follow the talk.  Money for one green initiative means less left in the jar for another.  Alternatively, it’ll be the consumer who pays.

Offshore wind energy will play, according to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, an important part in our energy independence.  The UK has to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and offshore wind is seen as the deliverer of half of the additional gigawatts of power needed.

If it really does believe that offshore wind, despite the high construction and maintenance costs involved, will win us the ‘extraordinary prize’ (Huhne’s words) of energy self-sufficiency, then the Government’s challenge will be the funding.  We could all end up paying the costs in taxation or higher electricity prices, but another way would be to increase the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for energy from this source.  Under the ROC scheme, licensed electricity suppliers are obliged to source a specified proportion of their electricity from renewables.  Offshore wind receives 2 ROCs for every Mwh of energy produced.  A further option for the Government would be to extend the period of offshore wind’s current ‘banding’, which is due to go down from 2 to 1.5 ROCs by 2014.

But as headteachers who were keenly awaiting gleaming new school buildings have discovered, generosity isn’t the Government’s highest priority.

Meanwhile in the USA, the backdrop to the expansion of renewable energy is looking relatively rosy, not because the economic situation is any better than here but because of our very own BP and its unfortunate spill. 

As Obama said in a speech last month, ‘the tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now’.  He went on to speak of old factories reopening to produce wind turbines and small businesses making solar panels.

‘Seize the day’, the President said.  And governors of a number of Atlantic–facing states are certainly acting, having come together to streamline offshore projects.  But in the UK, the day for seizing may have slipped from our grasp at least three years ago.  It’s a case of waiting for it to come round again.

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