15 Oct 2015
In the past few months, we have seen some challenging developments in the renewable energy sector. Two key announcements from the Government have stripped away the stabilising wheels for clean energy, removing some of the incentives on which the industry has relied, making it harder to progress. The reasons were effectively that prices for renewable energy has come down as to no longer require the same level of subsidy that it did five years ago.
The first announcement came in July 2015, when HMRC proclaimed that renewable electricity would lose its exemption to the Climate Change Levy, a tax on the supply of commodities to businesses. Renewables have been exempt from this charge since is was introduced in 2001, providing a subsidy for low margin investments in renewable generation.
The reason given for this change is to “correct an imbalance in the tax system by preventing taxpayer’s money benefitting renewable electricity generated overseas”. However, this logic is refuted by industry insiders who argue that more than 70% of the Levy Exemption Certificates went to UK providers. The removal of this tax exemption could mean a drop in income for some renewable schemes of between 5-6%. Although this may not sound like much, this could mean the difference between sink or swim for some smaller companies, as Dr Gordon Edge of RenewableUK explains:
“Yet again the Government is moving the goalposts, pushing some marginal projects from profit into loss. It’s another example of this Government’s unfair, illogical and obsessive attacks on renewables”
The great irony is that because the renewable industry is nearing price-parity with fossil fuels, and because the Government wants to ensure low energy prices for hard-working families, the requirement of clean energy generators to pay toward the Climate Change Levy will lower their profit margins, meaning they will need to raise prices in order to compensate.
The second measure affecting the renewables industry came from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), when it announced on 22 July 2015 that it would be removing preliminary accreditation from the Feed-in-Tariff. Pre-Accreditation means giving green energy generators a guaranteed tariff level in advance of a project being commissioned, which is vital for financial modelling and creating investment offers. Removing this guarantee means that energy providers would receive the tariff rate as at the date they apply for full accreditation. In the DECC’s own words, “this will mean that a developer will not be certain of the level of suport they will receive under the scheme until the point at which their application is received by Ofgem”.
According to the DECC, pre-accreditation was introduced to “remove a large degree of risk” and to “offer greater certainty to industry”. The table below illustrates the huge increase of installations deployed under the FiT pre-accreditation scheme since it was introduced in 2012:
So what could be the reason for removing such a successful incentive now? The rationale provided by Amber Rudd, minister of DECC, is that there has been a much greater uptake in renewable energy projects than was forecast. Predictions had been for approximately 750,000 new renewable installations nationwide between 2010-2020, whereas the reality is that there have already been 700,000 installations as of 2015. This has “significantly outstripped expectations”, meaning that budget forecasts for 2020 are no longer workable.
It makes no sense that at the same time we’re told climate change is the fight of our generation, we are being also being told that the UK cannot afford the present pace of renewable growth. Or that energy security is a big national priority, then stop the support for the one area that provides it. It is tragic that just as renewables are challenging fossil fuels for market dominance, their progress has been curtailed. The irony of the green industry being punished for exceeding expectations is absurd, especially at a time when financial incentives for fracking are are on the rise. As David Attenborough said in his recent interview with Barack Obama, to transition to a low-carbon economy all we need to do is make renewables cheaper than fossil fuels, and common sense market mechanisms will do the rest.
However, there is cause for optimism. Given the tremendous advances in the efficiency of renewable technology, as well as the recent growth of solar power in the UK, perhaps Amber Rudd and DECC are right; perhaps the renewable industry is resilient enough to ride without support. And the decision to cut the Feed-in-Tariff has not yet been settled either, with consultations underway (please complete this one by 10:10 here), so if you do feel this is wrong, contact your MP and let them know.
Moreover, even without the subsidies of the past, there are still enormous opportunities to lower our energy bills as well as carbon emissions through energy efficiency measures, such as insulation, draught-proofing, or double glazing.
If the recent developments in the renewable industry have highlighted one thing, its that communities cannot rely on fluctuating external factors if they desire a stable and fair energy supply. To defend our communities against such unexpected changes in the future, we need to take control of our own energy networks, which will ensure resilience and price stability.
And what’s more, we will not be penalised for our successes.