Around 1,000 jobs were lost last month as one of Britain’s biggest solar companies went into administration – a direct result of the government’s slash and burn of green policies. There’ll be more to come as the impacts of recent announcements begin to bite.
The irony is that this came in the same week as a new report, from Bloomberg, confirmed that renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy we can build. This is the latest of many reports that show just how illogical the government’s approach to energy policy is, and just how much the renewable sector has to offer.
Around 25% of the UK’s power now comes from renewable sources – an indigenous energy supply that creates no pollution, is immune to global commodity price rises, enables us to hit climate change targets and creates jobs and industry right here in Britain.
There appear to be no downsides to renewable energy or to continuing the modest levels of support it has had to date, particularly as it evolves quickly to a place where it needs none. But the government is instead intent on pulling the rug from underneath the entire renewables industry. Why? Well, they say two things to justify the renewable energy cull: firstly, that they are trying to protect ‘hard working bill payers’, and secondly, that industries should stand on their own two feet.
Both of these claims are fundamentally dishonest. The first claim is a bit of a joke really: the government made clear that ending its support for onshore wind would only save 30p per year for ‘hard working bill payers’ but this comes at the ‘cost’ of preventing 200MW of new capacity being built. If you think about that, in terms of pence per MW constructed, you can see just how awesome value for money onshore wind is – nothing else comes close. The attack on renewable energy is simply not about reducing energy bills for people – they’re only set to rise further as the renewable energy in our mix fails to increase.
The government’s second claim about industries standing on their own two feet is entirely contradicted by the support they continue to give to other parts of the energy industry, the fossil and nuclear sectors, which have been around far longer than renewables have.
Just last month, George Osborne announced an extra £2 billion sweetener to encourage the Chinese to build the new nuclear power station at Hinckley (essentially state ownership by a foreign power). Nuclear energy will be paid twice the market price for power for the next 35 years – and then of course, we’ll have to clean up the mess left behind, which already amounts to £120 billion for the current fleet of nuclear being decommissioned. This will add massively to all our energy bills, for present and future generations. On the other hand, the 30p ‘saving’ from onshore wind won’t even pay for the stamp that delivers your future inflated energy bills.
And then there’s fossil fuel support – The International Monetary Fund reported last month that total public support (it only seems to be called a subsidy when it’s for renewable energy) for the fossil fuel industry is a staggering £30 billion per year – or over £1,000 per household per year.
In contrast, total public support for renewable energy amounted to £2.6 billion last year ¬– or £100 per household¬ per year – with onshore wind making up just £10 of that. For that 100 quid, we get 25% of our nation’s power, every year. That looks like value for money to me.
Here’s an interesting thought. On top of the £30 billion fossil fuel subsidies, we spend another £50 billion a year just burning fossil fuels. We get no new power stations for that – it’s just £50 billion straight into a furnace; quite literally burning money.
If we took the combined £80 billion we spend on fossil fuels and invested that in building new sources of green infrastructure, onshore wind for example, we could meet up to 50% of Britain’s electricity needs – each year for the next 25 years. That’s a shocking statistic. Yes, it’s a little crude, because the £80 billion is not all spent at power stations, but it gives a good handle on the scale of cost and waste in the fossil fuel sector, and the economic benefits of moving to a green economy.
It’s not just about money either, it’s also about quality of life – and life itself. Around 30,000 people die of air pollution every year in Britain. Around 10% those deaths are in London, where air pollution levels are actually illegal. Climate change is a far bigger threat of course – on a scale quite hard to comprehend. The root cause of both these issues is very simply our approach to energy (well, our government’s) and the continued burning of fossil fuels at a rate that’s unsustainable any way you look at it.
Britain is blessed with enough renewable energy to power our entire country several times over, safely, without pollution and at the lowest cost of all energy sources. In the process, we’ll create tens of thousands of new sustainable jobs in the green economy. But we have a government that is ideologically opposed to renewable energy and, with its small majority in the Commons, has moved, against public opinion, to put a stop to this incredible success story.
There is something everyone can do about this, and it’s easy – vote with your energy bills and switch to green energy. Stop buying fossil fuel energy for your home from polluting energy companies – simply stop paying them. The more people that demand green energy in their homes, the more we’ll need to build. And maybe, just maybe, that message will get through to the government.
(Originally written for Salt Magazine for their #KeepItClean campaign)