Green deal or no deal?
It’s a confusing time for the Coalition’s energy policy: in the same week as announcing the creation of 1,000 new apprenticeships as part of the Green Deal to teach young people how to install home insulation, undoubtedly a good policy (despite some criticism that the numbers fall far short of those originally promised) the Government has also announced that it is bringing forward by a year the review of feed-in tariffs, for all schemes of over 50KW in size. Feed-in tariffs (FITs) allow energy users who generate their own renewable energy though micro-generation to sell it back to the grid. But the Government is concerned that larger scale schemes (over 50KW) such as a field of solar panels on a farm are taking advantage of the tariffs, which were supposedly not designed for commercial operations.
These two announcements are contradictory for a number of reasons. On a practical level, many of the companies keen to take on the new apprenticeships that the Government wants to create are likely to be severely affected by the scaling back of the FITs and therefore will be less likely to be in a position to take on apprenticeships. On a more profound level, not only does the Government appear to be worried about the growth of the low carbon economy, a growth sector it is supposedly trying to promote, but it is also stifling a crucial element of the renewable energy sector: investment in and development of community or neighbourhood scale renewable schemes.
A recent Friends of the Earth report recognised the crucial role that the ‘meso’ or community scale can play in meeting our renewable energy target: “It is crucial that we focus on ‘meso-scale’ renewables… If the potential for investment in towns, cities and other communities is ignored, the 2020 target will be much harder to meet.” The Coalition’s programme for government even spelled out their support for community-scale renewable energy, stating that: “We will encourage community-owned renewable energy schemes where local people benefit from the power produced. We will allow communities that host renewable energy projects to keep additional business rates they generate.”
So why are they stifling investment in the low-carbon technologies that they are simultaneously attempting to promote? There is no better example of the Big Society than communities, schools, hospitals and universities generating their own, renewable power. The Government should be encouraging this, not preventing it.