It’s ok to cut feed-in tariffs, because we’re on track to meet our renewables targets, right? Wrong.

This week the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) published the latest data from their public opinion tracker – a regular survey that measures, amongst other things, public support for clean energy. *Spoiler alert*: We still love renewables…   

Pat and Richard Astbury received solar on their council owned home thanks to Chase Community Solar.

Pat and Richard Astbury received solar on their council owned home thanks to Chase Community Solar.

So, if government aren’t being led by public opinion, on what basis are they delivering swinging blows to the British renewable industry? Well, one of the things we’ve repeatedly heard is that we don’t need to worry, we can afford to take our foot off the clean energy accelerator because we’re already on track to meet our targets. Right after the government announced plans to slash support for small and medium scale renewable energy, Amber Rudd, energy minister, was called in front of a commitee of cross party colleagues who had some serious concerns. Ms Rudd was quick to reassure them that the UK:

were still meeting our renewables targets

High fives all round! We might not win any prizes for best in class, but by hitting a minimum threshold, we’ll avoid legal action in the UK, and heavy fines imposed by the EU.

Except this week, a leaked letter published by the Ecologist suggests all may not be as it seems.

Amber Rudd MP. Credit: Department of Energy and Climate Change

Amber Rudd MP. Credit: Department of Energy and Climate Change

In a private communication to ministerial colleagues, Amber Rudd warned that in fact, we’re on track for a shortfall on our 2020 clean, renewable power target of around 25%.

Ms Rudd and her department have been quick to clarify this discrepancy between their seemingly conflicted public and private positions. It transpires that her reassurances to the Energy and Climate Change Committee referred only to electricity generation, not the bigger energy picture which includes transport and heat. Muddled? You’re not the only one…

Putting aside the fact that statements have been confusing (if not intentionally misleading as suggested by some) it does beg the question - with our overall target at risk, why cut off our front runner at the knees? We all want to see growth and innovation across other elements of energy generation, but the removal our strongest player seems absurd. Not only was there scope for electricity generation to over-deliver as the others caught up, but the ripple effects of the damage being wrought can only have negative consequences across the board. For starters, many of our best chances in clean transport and heat are also reliant on renewable electricity - electric vehicles and heat pumps for example. One fighting fit component of the renewable energy sector would only have served to cross pollinate the others. 

Now, with the UK having slipped out of the top ten countries for clean energy investment, and no clear plans on the table for carbon cutting policy in heat, transport or electricity, it’s difficult to see the government strategy at play here. We’re eagerly awaiting some clarity in the smog.