Our government really hates renewables. Last month, they ignored the public and the decisions of local authorities to force fracking on everyone. And now – unless we talk them out of it – they’re slashing subsidies for renewable energy. It’s as if they get off on fossil fuels. They act like clean energy has to be avoided at all costs.
Our renewables sector has been doing remarkably well in recent years. One of the main reasons for this is because of a policy called feed in tariffs. Put simply, this means that if you stick up a bunch of solar panels and generate more electricity than you use, you can sell the excess energy back to the grid.
It’s essentially a very fair and effective form of subsidy, and has incentivised countless renewables projects which otherwise wouldn’t have been viable. It’s a great policy that was making the transition to clean energy accessible to more and more ordinary families and communities. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing more of, wouldn’t you think? Well, apparently not.
Sticking to their usual ‘if it ain’t broke, break it’ approach to climate policy, the government has announced a consultation to “control costs” in this feed in tariff scheme. And when they say “control costs”, they mean scrapping it altogether. Returns will plummet to an unworkable level from January, and they’ll continue to degrade from there. They already rushed through one set of cuts to subsidies during the parliamentary recess in a typically classy move. Now they’re going for the rest.
This is an ideological assault on renewables. Government says that the sector should survive without their money, yet we’re still subsidising oil and gas to the tune of billions a year. And they’ve no problem strong-arming when it comes to the interests of the fossil fuel industry, who have almost limitless money to spend on lobbying. They’ve just granted 27 new fracking licences across the country in a staggeringly anti-democratic move, ignoring the public, and the rights of local authorities to make local decisions. They really, really like fossil fuels.
There are some simple facts we have to keep in mind here. We need to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees warming to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown. To do this, we need to keep 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground, and transition to completely clean energy by 2050. Anything less than this commits us to at least 4 degrees of warming, bringing with it mass resource scarcity, unprecedented global conflict, and a very real threat to civilisation itself.
This obviously needs bold action. So what does our government do? They say no to solar, and reach for the drills. It’s literally the opposite of what we need to be doing. They’re locking us into fossil fuel infrastructure the public doesn’t even want, and they’ve absolutely wrecked the progress of renewables.
This isn’t just more bad news for the climate and the renewables industry. This is another savage attack on the young. Not only do these decisions push us closer towards the worst effects of climate breakdown – which is about as bad an outcome as you can think of for young people today – but they deny us opportunities and prosperity in the shorter term too.
The government makes misleading promises about the jobs that fracking will bring, but it’s the transition to a zero-carbon society which will galvanise the economy and the labour market in a long term, sustainable way. And this is the work that young people want. But along with stuff like scrapping maintenance grants, cuts to housing benefits, and axing of tax credits, it seems that this government wants to make life as difficult as possible for anyone under 25 today. Renewables would offer some hope of a prosperous future for young people. Maybe it’s not really a surprise that the government has crushed them.
Imagine if the government took the money it spends on war and fossil fuels and spent it on developing a vibrant renewable energy industry instead. At the moment they’re doing the reverse. They’re backing the interests of big oil and gas over the interests of young people.
We can fight back. We can bring the renewable energy revolution into the hands of real people and real communities. And it can start in the student movement. There’s about £5billion invested in fossil fuels across our universities, and thousands of students are telling their institutions to stop fuelling climate breakdown – with some massive wins already. But we won’t stop there. Over the next year, we’ll be campaigning to invest that money back into the clean alternatives and give the sector the support it needs.
If our government won’t champion renewables, we’ll have to do it instead.