By Will Cottrell, Chairman, Brighton Energy Coop
Let’s be clear: neither the government’s ‘Remain’ advocates, nor Brexit campaigners really give a monkey’s about renewable energy. Both sides are, after all, part of an administration that’s overseen 60% cuts to Feed in Tariffs, blocked onshore wind, and done its damnedest to promote stuff that people actually don’t, er, want – viz Hinkley Point C and fracking.
Everything that the UK government has done in the last 3 years has diminished renewable energy.
For clean energy, therefore, the key question around EU membership is: which position – in or out – keeps UK politicians’ hands away from our renewable energy sector?
There are few things to consider:
Carrots and sticks
The UK has two targets for renewable energy. The first is domestic: 20% of electricity should be renewably-generated by 2020. This is part of the 2008 Climate Act, passed under the aegis of Ed Milliband, then secretary of state for Energy.
The second, confusingly, is the same 20% by 2020. This time, however, this is mandated by the EU.
The difference is that the latter has teeth. EU member states are obliged to comply, or face a bunch of fines. So under EU membership the UK faces a financial loss if renewable energy targets are not hit.
Fire in the belly of Boris ‘biker’ Johnson no doubt. But a successful tactic to focus thinking and drive markets towards solutions to climate change.
If we leave the EU we are under no obligation to deliver renewable energy. Our commitment to dealing with climate change starts instead to look rather like our commitments at the Paris COP21 climate conference: all talk and no action.
The second point is money. How do we pay for the things viz. the best batteries for solar panels, we need to hit the targets?
Brexiteers have been saying that leaving the EU would free up a wads of cash to invest this side of the channel. Leaving aside the utter schadenfreude of this (does anyone actually believe that a Tory government would get £20bn from Europe and chuck it into the NHS? Really?) in terms of renewables, today’s government record has not been so cutesy. Under their watch, the UK has slipped from 3rd to 13th in the world as the best place to invest in renewables. Subsidies have been cut, and a steady stream of invective trickles out under the tutelage of Cameron and his ‘green crap’.
A big portion of cash heading to our shores from renewable investment came from the European Investment Bank. The EIB has invested 7.2 billion euros (£5.59 billion) into renewable energy since 2007. The UK has been the biggest beneficiary, receiving 24% of these funds, significantly more than any other country. While non-EU countries have received investment from the bank, being outside the EU means we are not involved in the decision making process.
And as anyone who has been involved in funding knows: if you don’t go to the ball, you don’t get to dance.
It’s understandable why many in power would like nothing better than to throw all the old rules out and instead write some of their own. After all: who wouldn’t!
But new regulations reflect the ideology of those who write them.
And, in terms of renewables, we can see clearly the trajectory of the new (potential) scribes.
On the other hand there are plenty of people for whom climate change a frightening threat, and for whom renewable energy is a flagship solution to the problem. These people are highly aggrieved when cuts are announced, or when new white elephant projects (Hinkley C) are pushed through. A majority are against fracking, and a majority are pro-solar. Yet the authorities chart the opposite course.
The conclusion from this is obvious: this government needs oversight. If you’re interested in renewable energy, the case to Remain is, er, clear.
You can help grow the UK’s renewable energy sector by joining organisations like Brighton Energy Coop. BEC members receive 5% interest on their investments – see more about our projects here.