Did Amber Rudd, the new Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in her first fortnight, put DECC at serious risk of a legal challenge from the wind industry? In her first interview with the Sunday Times after the election she announced her support and desire to bring into the Queen’s speech a legislative change to incentives for onshore windfarms, and that more powers would be passed back to communities to make decisions to accept or reject turbines in their area. In the same interview, Ms Rudd also stated that there would be a strong push to bring in fracked gas approving drilling, even in National Parks, as long as the drilling rig wasn’t in the park itself. In some respects you can understand the Government’s dilemma, given the recent announcements in coal power plant capacity reduction with the added closure of Ferrybridge C in West Yorkshire. This will further reduce the grid capacity, which was down to just 4% spare last year.
However, new renewable energy capacity could have been generated from onshore wind, but this seems to have been stopped in its tracks (without any further consultation before the announcement), even though the Government went to the European Commission on the basis of technology neutrality for Contract for Difference (CfD) similar to what it did with Feed-in Tariffs (FiT). It would seem that the Conservative’s old slogan; ‘vote blue, go green’ will now only be true if the contaminated waters from fracking are in fact green. Of course, if you consider nuclear power as green, being lower carbon than coal generated energy, then perhaps in the future (possibly by 2030), they will sticking to their word. It should be said that the Government still believes in offshore wind as a good option for renewables and there is potentially good news for PV and reducing energy demand, depending on who you talk to.
There are three particular issues that concern me with the new governments stance:
- The first is we have already had incidences of greenhouse gases reaching 400ppm (the tipping point for controlling global warming at 2˚C). This Government is going to be negotiating with countries around the world in the Paris negotiations in December on a new climate change agreement.
- What credibility will we have, given what we are doing at home? Closer to home – where is the equity in the Government’s approach to a balanced energy mix, if they are happy to push through fracked gas despite all the disruption it will cause for communities (without us even discussing the potential downsides, such as in drought periods, where fracking is taking place, who will get the water needed …?).
- The Government is not prepared to put the same emphasis with regards to onshore wind or other technologies. How does that work?
Secondly, given the new policy direction that appears to be controlled by those that vehemently dislike wind turbines, and in particular windfarms, what is the Government going to do to meet our 2020 targets? Or is there nothing to fear if the UK government does not meet these binding targets? My understanding from colleagues is that if the infraction was imposed on the UK Government, then the fine could be equivalent to the cost of actually implementing the required measures to achieve the target (15% of all energy). I would hate to think what that would do to the UK’s economy.
Thirdly, will the Government consider the consequences of the potential infraction when negotiating the new relationships and working within the EU? After all, an upset Commission may be inclined to interpret the rule book a lot more strictly for those that it feels are not respecting the partnership of the EU.
While ONS stated in February 2015 that the Government was on target to meet its 2020 targets at 15% of electricity from renewable sources, that is still only 50% of where it needs to be, with only 4.5 years effectively to go. This still does not cover heat or transport, which make up the other parts of ALL energy. 2015 is a reporting year (last reported 2013) for member states to report to the Commission on their progress towards the 2020 targets. It may make for interesting reading, given the direction of travel this Government appears to be taking.