Government running out of time to deliver affordable low-carbon energy system, experts warn

Warning comes amid fears of changes to FITs scheme that led to 700,000 houses installing solar panels

The current Feed in Tariffs (FITs) scheme has led to 700,000 homes across the UK installing solar panels
The current Feed in Tariffs (FITs) scheme has led to 700,000 homes across the UK installing solar panels

The government’s energy policy ‘reset’, which has seen solar and onshore wind subsides cut, is “unhelpful”, Britain’s energy experts have warned, arguing that time is running out to make crucial planning decisions and get the huge investment needed to deliver a secure, affordable and low-carbon energy system in the decades to come.

In a report prepared for the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, the Royal Academy of Engineering said that Ministers must now drive forward new capacity in “big ticket items” of nuclear, offshore wind farms and technology which captures and stores carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants.

Dr David Clarke, chief executive of the Energy Technologies Institute who led the study, said: “The message from this report is there are a number of major programmes already in train in terms of UK government policy and policy support.

“And four of those programmes are offshore wind, new nuclear, carbon capture and storage and heat. They’re already in train. Do not derail them. Or if you do, recognise the cost penalty for the future that will come with it.”

Dr Keith MacLean, chairman of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) advisory board, added: “It’s rather unhelpful, this talk there has been at the moment of a reset of energy policy from the Secretary of State.

“It suggests that we’ve got magical new policies and technologies which we are suddenly going to pull out like a rabbit from the hat, and that’s just an illusion.”

The warning comes amid fears from renewable energy experts that a government consultation on proposed changes to the solar Feed in Tariffs (FITs) scheme will whitewash any objections.

The FITs scheme, which means people receive money from their energy supplier if using a low-carbon source such as solar power, has led to 700,000 homes across the UK installing solar panels.

However, the government now wants to drastically reduce how much people receive.

Three options being considered in the consultation - leave the schemes as it is, close the scheme, or - the preferred option - changing some tariff bands and the introduction of caps.

The proposals, due to come into force in January, will cut the tariff paid for electricity generated by solar rooftop panels from 12.4p to 1.6p. It is hoped the proposed measures will bring down consumer bills.

The Solar Trade Association estimates the cuts will mean a loss of up to 27,000 of 35,000 industry jobs.

Despite Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom telling the Energy and Climate Change select committee this week she was keeping an “open mind” about the preferred option to slash the subsidy, renewable experts fear the worst.

Several renewable energy experts told the Independent they believed the Treasury would overrule Mrs Leadsom even if she decided to halt the cuts following the consultation process. “This decision’s going to be made in the Treasury, rather than DECC,” one said.

The Energy Saving Trust said wholesale energy prices are not falling fast enough yet for the technology to be subsidy free and that the proposed changes go “too far, too fast”. It has proposed an alternative option to making the FITs programme work.

David Weatherall, Policy Adviser at the trust, said: “Analysis undertaken by Energy Saving Trust specialists shows that we can protect Feed-in Tariffs for homes, schools and communities for a cost to each household of only 24p a year. And the total amount of clean energy generated through our proposed revised programme would be roughly equivalent to the capacity of the massive planned new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant (3.2GW).”

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