The government’s continual axing of various green initiatives is expected to culminate in a debate with the House of Lords as the Conservatives plan to re-implement an earlier excised addition to the energy bill that would see the cancellation of the Renewable Obligation subsidy scheme.
Last year in June, the government tried to push forward a plan to end subsidies given to onshore wind farms in the UK and was challenged by a cross-section of peers from different parties in the upper chamber.
Now, Amber Rudd intends to try and push the bill (with the clause) forward once more, but will face opposition from the House of Lords again. This fight will have to happen since, as the bill was initially conceived in the House of Lords, the government does not have the option of using the Parliamentary Act to bypass the upper chamber.
The plan involves scrapping the Renewables Obligation and, as a result, the subsidies to onshore wind farms that it funds. The coalition government already planned to scrap these subsidies by 2017, by which time the industry should be able to cope without them, but the Conservative’s plan would bring this forward to April of this year.
The Renewables Obligation, and so the subsidies it funds, are paid for not from government funds, but from levies placed on household energy bills. As such, the proposed early scrapping has the ostensible aim of saving households money, as promotion of shale gas production is intended to boost energy security.
However, while the cost of the Renewables Obligation scheme worked out at around £30 per household per year (a levy of around 2.4% to each household fuel bill), scrapping it would only save households around 30p, according to the estimates given by Amber Rudd’s Department for Energy and Climate Change itself.
Further, developments in technology is the sector mean that by most accounts, onshore wind farms are currently the cheapest and most effective from of renewable energy available. This is particularly the case when the technology if free to be used at its full potential, however current restrictions in place in the UK mean that the effectiveness of onshore wind farms is reduced.
Peers from the Lib-Dem and Labour camp have already expressed their desire to fight back against the change when the necessary debate reaches the House of Lords, but even before then, the Labour party have announced that they will be taking issue with the broader issue of what has been described as wide scale “backsliding” on green issues on the part of the Conservative government.
One of the big issues that will be discussed is the government’s recent cancellation of the Carbon Capture and Storage competition that would have seen commercial scale implementation of CCS technology at coal based power plants across the UK. CCS technology involves, as the name suggests, the capture and storage of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning plants, dramatically reducing their environmental impact.
The CCS competition, that has so far cost the government around £1 billion, was part of the Tory party’s election manifesto and as such, its cancellation has drawn wide criticism.
But beyond political issues, it is also seen as a drastic step backwards on the road towards a more low-carbon environment generally, particularly given the recent targets introduced since the COP21 summit in Paris, and the UK’s latest domestic review from the Committee on Climate Change.
Ernest Moniz, energy secretary for the US (where CCS technology has already begun rolling out) recently tweeted that “Carbon capture is critical for solving #ClimateChange. And it’s working.”
This seems to fly in the face of Cameron’s claims when defending the cancellation of the competition that: “in government you have to make tough choices: you have to make decisions about technology that works and technology that doesn’t.”
Labour MPs are expected to question the cost of the cancellation of the scheme as well, which is expected to enter into the tens of millions – all at the expense of the tax payer.
Labour’s shadow energy secretary, Lisa Nandy, has requested the National Audit Office to run a “fresh investigation into the Treasury’s whole approach to the government’s CCS programme”. The NAO already took issue with a the cancellation of a different CCS scheme back in 2011.
Nandy said: “the Labour party considers that CCS is a crucial technology that could play a vital role in creating and sustaining jobs and businesses across Britain, as well as helping our country – and the international community – progress towards climate safety.”