The coalition government’s muddled approach to renewable energy is beginning to undermine climate change mitigation and technological innovation say industry leaders.
It’s also starting to hurt the viability of both UK businesses driving the development of alternatives to fossil fuels and of hard-pressed English farmers.
Panic over the rise of UKIP and policy u-turns aimed at placating the most ferociously conservative of Tory constituents are playing a role in the disarray. This is combined with ministers looking for easy popularity points and a willingness to make blanket statements presented as facts, despite a complete lack of evidence.
This jostling for profile and power – both within the Tory ranks and as a response to voters switching party allegiance – is playing into the hands of Lord Lawson and Owen Paterson’s anti-renewables crusade.
Since leaving his position as environment secretary, Paterson has called for the Climate Change Act to be dismantled and spoke at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
RenewableUK’s Rob Norris said: “The likes of Pickles and Paterson are using the vital issue of renewables to raise their own profiles and promote themselves within their own fiefdoms.
“Ministers are making statements espousing emotive, populist viewpoints that are based on no evidence whatsoever but rather on prejudice and a fetish for technologies such as nuclear and shale.”
Ministers – from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – responsible for local and rural economies as well as the environment are not only actively working against these interests but are doing so with scant regard for economic and scientific fact.
DCLG’s secretary of state, Eric Pickles, for example, has now weighed in on 50 onshore windfarm applications, rejecting 17 of the 19 decided on so far.
This has led Ed Davey – the Lib Dem actually in charge of energy and climate change – to claim: “Mr Pickles doesn’t seem worried about climate or energy bills. Pickles, who claims to be a champion of localism, has been calling in every onshore wind planning application he can, interfering with the independent Planning Inspectorate process [and] over-riding decisions of elected councillors.
“Pickles is in danger of bringing the planning system into disrepute, of abusing ministerial power and so preventing Britain getting the green power revolution it needs.”
New Defra head Liz Truss has also announced changes to the Common Agricultural Policy aimed at thwarting solar farm developments as she “does not want to see the productive potential of English farmland is wasted and blighted by solar farms”.
Shortly after, however, it was shown in the Commons she had no evidence to suggest this is happening.
Amber Rudd, another Tory at DECC under Davey and in charge of solar, climate science and innovation, has also waded in saying: “Solar farms are not particularly welcome because we believe that solar should be on the roofs of buildings and homes, not in the beautiful green countryside. We are proud to stand on that record.”
Investment at risk
Not only do these ministers have real power to undermine the increase in renewable generation they’re tasked with supporting but their actions risk choking off investment, sinking start-ups and depriving the very farmers whose votes they’re after of much needed income.
“Pickles running riot has resulted in a pathetic amount of consents, chilling the blood of investors, who are likely to go elsewhere with their money, driving up cost and putting innovation at risk when we need to be encouraging developers and taking the technologies forward,” said Norris.
“UKIP has banged on about three ‘big issues’ – the EU, immigration and bizarrely onshore wind – which they say represent everything that’s wrong with modern Britain. Pickles is using his position to intervene as often as possible in an attempt to recapture lost ground,” he continued.
“He now wants to take away the right of local government altogether to approve wind developments, a development that would be sinister as well as against his professed policy of localism.”
Photo: Anne Marie Peterson