Britain Seeks To Renege On Renewable Energy Goals As It Leaves European Union

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Britain has set a goal of 15% renewable energy by 2020. Today, it is has about half that, which means it will need to go very far, very fast to meet the target. If it fails to do so, it could face fines from the European Union totaling tens of millions of pounds. In an effort to avoid that fate, the British government is looking to abandon its renewable energy goal entirely, while maintaining its links to European markets and preserving its ability to participate in cross-border electrical energy trading with neighboring countries.

UK seeks to ditch renewable energy goals

Not so fast, the members of the European Union say. So deeply do the economic and cultural ties between the UK and the EU go, the negotiations to unwind them may take up to 10 years to complete. EU leaders want to make sure Britain doesn’t get to “cherry pick” the provisions that favor it most and ignore the rest.

Politicians in the European Parliament adopted a resolution last Wednesday that opposed piecemeal or industry-specific deals between the EU and Britain as one of its conditions for approving the UK’s withdrawal arrangement. The lawmakers agreed that any future deal is conditional on the UK continuing to stick with the EU’s policies on climate change and the environment.

The UK Separates Itself From the EU

Backing away from its renewable energy goals would put the UK at odds with other European Union nations that maintain targets as part of their membership in the region’s energy market. While renewable targets and electricity market rules are negotiated differently, they link at the level of political discussions.

“There is a risk that energy gets wrapped up in the wider political negotiation, with the EU seeking to make access to the Internal Energy Market subject to the U.K. signing up to future energy and environment legislation,” said Simon Virley, head of power and utilities at KPMG. He is a former director-general of the UK’s energy and climate ministry. “That is when it could get difficult.”

Maintaining Energy Links With The Continent

The move is an example of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government seeking to maintain the most advantageous parts of the EU relationship while scrapping rules that raise hackles in the business community. The EU’s internal energy market is a package of assets, codes, and rules that allow intra-day trading across borders. Britain wants to build up those links as part of its effort to maintain electricity supplies as aging power plants retire from service.

Britain already has power links with about 4 gigawatts of capacity according to National Grid, and that could reach about 18 gigawatts by the mid 2030s. In all future scenarios, the UK will remain a net importer of electricity until the early 2030s, the grid operator predicts. Power links with other countries are key to reducing the cost of electricity in the UK, since each gigawatt from foreign resources has the potential to reduce wholesale prices by as much as 2 percent says National Grid.

Some countries that are not part of the EU, such as Norway, have cross-border energy agreements in place and are part of the internal energy market. Switzerland, however, is not part of the EU and has been negotiating deals on energy separately with the EU for more than a decade. It is not allowed to participate in intra-day trading of electricity, according to Antony Froggatt, an analyst at the Chatham House research group in London. It is possible the UK would like to follow the Swiss example as it seeks to chart its own course as it separates from the EU.

Government Reaffirms Climate Change Goals, But…

A spokesperson for the British government insists the county remains committed to tacking climate change and will meet all targets “while we remain part of the EU.” The UK is seeking to avoid further constraints on its energy mix imposed by the EU, according to the official. “We are proposing a bold and ambitious trade agreement that covers sectors crucial to our linked economies, including network industries,” the official said.

The problem is, the UK is actively trying to break free of what it considers the EU stranglehold, which seems to make its commitment to those climate change objectives rather weak tea. The government has given the lie to its own rosy pronouncements, however. Recently, it slashed incentives for residential rooftop solar installations by cutting the feed-in tariff rate (known in the US as net metering) by two thirds, according to The Guardian. Not surprisingly, installation rates of new rooftop solar have plummeted by 75% in the past few months. Many solar installers have gone bankrupt, throwing thousands of people employed in the solar industry out of work.

Some Policies Are More Equal That Others

A government official, sounding like Donald Trump himself, concocted this pile of blather to explain the government’s move: “It’s only fair that the costs on people’s energy bills to support solar projects should come down as the industry establishes itself and costs fall. Ultimately, we want a low carbon energy sector that can stand on its own two feet rather than relying on subsidies.” Spoken like it came right from the desk of Charles and David Koch, which it very well may have.

Fossil fuel interests love to bleat about subsidies while racking in over $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies a year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The Koch Brothers and the multiple fake research organizations they fund always gloss over that fact while they talk about “leveling the playing field” and how government “shouldn’t be picking winners and losers,” even though they routinely shovel barrels full of money to elected officials to make sure their interests get first priority. It is no coincidence that the talking points we read about in the British press are the same as the one we here in the US and in other countries, like Australia.

In England, adhering to climate targets is favored by 85% of Conservative party voters according to a survey released by Bright Blue, a UK think tank, on Tuesday. “There is no mandate from Conservatives to dilute current environmental regulation,” said Sam Hall, senior researcher at Bright Blue. “There are a handful of prominent Conservatives who are skeptical about environmental challenges and policies. The mainstream of Conservative voters do not support scaling back current EU environmental regulations.”

Is England Shooting Itself In The Foot?

The unfortunate part of the British government turning its back on renewable energy targets is two-fold. First, the 2020 target of 15% is ridiculously low in the first place. Lowering it further borders on insanity. Second, it will act as a disincentive to investors thinking of backing renewable energy projects in England. Investors value stable markets more than anything else. If basic government policies can be altered so easily at the whim of a few self-interested politicians, what reason is there to support renewable energy investments going forward?

England is mad because regulators in Brussels are seen as meddlesome fools who only want to burden the UK with silly regulations. Echoes of that same argument are heard on the other side of the Atlantic from those who are taking a sledgehammer to the EPA, NASA, and any other government-funded climate research organizations. The timing of those two trends is far from accidental, as fossil fuel interests continue their quest to burn every molecule of hydrocarbons in existence for their own profit.

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The voters could bring this destructive behavior to a halt, but they are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of false information pouring forth from the organizations who spout the fossil fuel party line. Which leads to this question: What good will all that wealth do anyone after the earth is stripped of its ability to support humanity? The wealthy are doomed to perish along with the hoi polloi. Do they think somehow they will be spared to enjoy an idyllic existence with but a few thousand other lucky souls? Apparently so.

Source: Bloomberg

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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