‘Project blackout fear’: Green economy scolds think tank research into Britain’s energy mix

A new report questioning the economic value of renewable energy and phase out of coal-fired power plants has faced retaliation from green organisations for undermining the role of renewable generation in the UK's future energy mix.

The paper released today (29 September) by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) think tank has called for a complete energy policy overhaul, with analysis claiming that renewable policies will cost households £466 on average a year by 2020.

According to the CPS, network costs and other charges associated with renewables could add £5bn onto consumer bills in 2020, in addition to the £7.6bn annual budget for subsidies to support technologies such as solar, wind and biomass.

The research suggests EU directives are forcing coal plants to close too early and that the equivalent baseload capacity is not being built, leading to a huge fall in Britain’s reliable electricity generation. The CPS is calling on the Government to scrap the UK’s internal carbon tax to increase competitiveness and prolong the lifetime of coal plants, which it believes would help “keep the lights on”.

Green backlash

However, the report has been criticised by environmental groups highlighting the long-term, low-cost value of renewable generation in the transition to a decarbonised economy. ECIU’s executive director Richard Black conceded that Britain’s energy strategy needs reform, but expressed his frustrations at organisations that “feel they have to resort to ‘project blackout fear’ in order to get their points across”.

Black said: “Critics of decarbonisation have been warning that ‘the lights will go out’ for 10 years, and one suspects people are a little confused given that the lights have stubbornly stayed on, apart from when storms bring down power-lines or sub-stations get flooded.

“The reality is that Britain, along with many other countries, is in the middle of a transition to a low-carbon energy system based largely around renewable generation. In the midst of change, things can look a bit messy – but done right, we’ll come out of it with a system that delivers reliable low-carbon power at-low cost – and what look like subsidies now will turn out to have been prudent investments for the future.”

His view was echoed by Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) head of policy & external affairs James Court, who added: “The REA agree with the point that new investment in the energy sector is long overdue and unstable government energy policy is not helping. What is not the problem, however, are renewables, which are critical to the UK’s decarbonisation efforts and are cheaper than nuclear and gas.”

Consistency plea

Today’s report suggests that the UK has suffered a series of confused energy policy decisions in recent years, culminating in the recent go-ahead of Hinkley Point, which it states represents “poor value for taxpayers.” This reflects the views of of nearly 1,000 business directors who recently told a survey that British energy policy since the turn of the century has failed on delivering secure and competitively-priced energy.

The green economy has agreed unanimously that it would welcome a higher level of consistency to reverse the ‘chop-and-change’ culture that has previously destabilised the green policy landscape. 

The first opportunity to provide a clear strategy on delivering emissions reduction will be the upcoming Autumn Statement, which could provide details on the future of the Carbon Price Floor and post-2020 spending on renewables support

George Ogleby

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