Guest blog: Renewsable: Budget announcements for a bygone era, but we’re looking to the future


Greenpeace anti fracking action at Conservative club in George Osborne’s constituency.

By Sarah Lewis-Hammond



Renewable energy investors watching today’s Budget announcement will not have known whether to jeer or cheer.

The jeer

In a rush of energy policy announcements that made the industrial revolution look tame, Chancellor George Osborne went on full frack attack, announcing tax breaks for shale gas exploration in the UK (you read it here first) and climate change levy exemptions for some of the most energy intensive industries.  So far, so 1900s’ vision of progress.

Some of the more enlightened responses to the energy announcements came from Dr Tim Fox,
Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, who, whilst not necessarily in favour of renewables nor against nuclear or fracking per se, warned:  ”It is important for Government not to see shale gas as the silver bullet many claim it is. Shale gas is unlikely to impact greatly on energy prices in the UK and we must avoid becoming hostage to volatile gas markets by not being over-reliant on gas.”

The cheer

The Chancellor did acknowledge that alternative and social investment needed a boost. This extended as far as removing stamp duty for investments in AIM (the alternative investment market), among other measures to boost asset management, for example. Social enterprise investment received some proper support. These gestures at least appeared to be a step towards a genuinely improved financial future, but fell short of a full recognition of the failures of the current system.

The plus points on energy were a small increase in the Carbon Price Floor (CPF) – the tax on fossil fuels used in the generation of electricity – to £18.08 per tonne of carbon dioxide, and more support for the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) programme, where waste CO2 is gathered up and deposited somewhere it cannot cause harm.

Other developments this week

Ofgem predicted a three-fold increase in profit for the Big Six energy companies and reported that the huge utilities are making an average of £110 profit per customer.

All the while consumer bills are shooting up and fuel poverty is rife. New figures suggest 8,000 people die every year from living in cold homes, and by 2016 one in three households will be spending more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel (the definition of fuel poverty). Not progress to be proud of in 2013.

The new generation of nuclear power stations in England approved this week might be part of the solution, but in a post-Fukushima world, it is not a popular one.

Meanwhile, the real energy revolution is quietly pottering along in the background. Despite the headlines about blights on the landscape, expensive electricity and low energy yields, trust in clean power has never been higher ow.ly/iYqSN.

A global survey showed that nearly 70 per cent of people trust renewable businesses to “do the right thing”, as compared to 58 per cent for gas and 50 per cent for oil. US president Barack Obama cleared the path for more than 1GW of renewable projects, the biggest single haul in history , and Shams-1, the world’s largest operational solar power plant, went online ow.ly/j8J6l.

Money money money

With predictions of the clean energy sector doubling over the next ten years, its role as a major economic force is beginning to be recognised. The European Wind Energy Association sent a warning to governments that ignoring them would mean job losses and stunted economic growth. Meanwhile, farmers who have previously lost money due to bad harvests and the ever plummeting price of food have been cashing in on renewable, with some earning up to £50,000 a year from wind turbines on their land. Read our feature on why the agriculture industry supports renewables here.

Dinosaur fuel is not so cool

George Osborne may want to encourage shale gas, but here’s another reason to ditch the planet juice: a report from Greenpeace says that pollution may be causing 20 million asthma cases every year in India, as well as 120,000 deaths.

Reuters reports that the explosion in renewable technology and the rise of the consumer producer means traditional utilities are losing out, their anachronistic business models set to make them the dinosaurs of the future.

Record breaking

As ever, renewables are smashing records, even as they’re making them. Abundance Generation’s Great Dunkilns wind turbine smashed its previous one day record to generate a grand total of 11,052kWhrs in a 24-hour period. The world’s largest offshore wind farm is set to more than double in size ow.ly/iUPI7. The US solar PV market grew 67 per cent last year ow.ly/iYq1Y and solar, wind and biofuels saw record deployment blog.trillionfund.com/?p=55880.

If they are doing it why can’t we?

A 12-year old girl in Georgia, USA, is building her own solar-powered house using money collected via crowdfunding platform Indiegogo ow.ly/iNtbL. Which rather begs the next question: If a 12-year old can figure it out, why can’t the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Sarah is an environmental journalist and editor and has written for The Guardian, Green Futures, New Statesman, The Ecologist and Ecosalon. She has launched her own eco-ethical lifestyle magazine, started an environment section in her local paper, set up the Sussex Eco Awards to celebrate excellent grassroots achievement across the county, and was named London and South Environmental Journalist of the Year.

Find out more about TrillionFund at: http://www.trillionfund.com.

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