The Liberal Democrat peer and former coalition minister on the British government’s incoherent approach to renewable energy.
On 2 February, the Tories took another bite out of Britain’s renewable energy industry. The latest proposed slashes to the green sector do not just hurt the many people working in the solar industry who are fearing for their jobs: they were also a smack in the teeth to the wider British economy.
Back in December, when most people were focussed on Christmas and not renewable subsidies, the government quietly published their decision to cut Feed-in Tariffs for industries such as solar, wind and hydropower by a staggering 65 per cent. Included in the small print was analysis which showed a possible 19,000 job losses, mostly in solar, which would see that industry shrink to under half its size.
Despite the huge impact of these cuts, there were no plans to debate it in Parliament. That was until I tabled a “fatal motion”, prompting today’s debate and giving the House of Lords an opportunity to reject the government’s proposals and send them back to the Commons for a rethink.
These cuts are nothing short of economic stupidity. Renewable industries are a growing market across the globe, with new opportunities opening up in India, Mexico, Africa and elsewhere. Global sales in renewables are expected to reach the trillions in the next couple of decades. Britain has the opportunity to capitalise on this and be a world leader in green technologies.
Instead the government is thinking short-term, and our economy will suffer. For a party that wants people to think of it as economically competent, this is an incredibly bad move.
The British have a long, proud history of being innovators, providing cutting-edge solutions in technology, communications, medicine and transport. Why would we not want to capitalise on this emergent and expanding sector, leading the way? Our country’s bright minds could be shaping the industry, riding the wave as more and more nations embrace renewables. The economic case for investing is clear.
Solar is a hugely promising sector, and is one of the cheapest and safest ways for the UK to deliver on its renewable targets. It is no wonder that across the country 750,000 homes now generate their own power through solar panels. We could see future generations “grow their own power” producing a nation of backyard businesses.
But instead the government is pulling the rug from underneath these promising industries, undermining the investment of recent years just as it’s starting to pay off and bring costs down. Solar could become subsidy-free by the end of this Parliament with the right treatment, opening up huge possibilities. Instead we risk falling by the wayside, watching the rest of the world embrace the new industry.
In the debate last week I put these economic arguments across – to show that even if the Tories just consider it all “green crap” they should still see the value in supporting the growth of these industries for our long-term prosperity. Low-carbon products and services, renewable energy, energy efficiency, low-carbon vehicles, carbon capture and storage and green finance will be the products that gain market share and create exports and jobs, laying the foundations for long-term prosperity. It is absurd to neglect these economic opportunities just to appease climate-sceptic backbenchers or those with vested interests in the fossil energy sector. Britain’s economy must come first.
Lynne Featherstone is a Liberal Democrat peer.
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