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Renewable energy: the hotbed of debate

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  • 5 min read

The renewable energy sector is currently a hotbed of debate. And we’ve certainly seen evidence of an energy policy reset by the new Conservative government, that’s seemingly flexing its muscles.

According to Jonathan Scurlock, chief renewable energy and climate change adviser for the NFU, the Conservatives are putting their stamp on energy policy, stopping some well rooted measures and support schemes.

Jonathan notes the following green policy changes that, as he coins it, have been ‘put to the sword’:

  • “Ending ‘new subsidies’ for onshore wind;
  • Tougher planning guidance for all new wind turbine applications;
  • Closing the Renewables Obligation for solar PV under 5 megawatts;
  • Ending ‘pre-accreditation’ for Feed-In Tariff projects;
  • Removing guaranteed support levels under the Renewables Obligation for new solar and some biomass projects;
  • Making renewables pay the ‘climate change levy’ on energy bills;
  • Closing the Green Deal for homeowners energy efficiency loans;
  • Postponing the zero carbon homes target;
  • Revising Vehicle Excise Duty so that most cars pay the same rate after their first year;
  • Drastic proposed cuts to the Feed-In Tariff scheme, particularly for solar power.

“These changes are unsurprisingly unsettling for farmers, and we’re seeing ripples throughout the supply chain, creating uncertainly from investors,” says Jonathan. “But its not all doom and gloom. The renewables industry is now mature, and much more able to stand on its own two feet.

“This maturing renewable energy sector can offer a lot, circumventing the basic need for government incentives. Renewable energy companies are offering very attractive and secure schemes that stand up in their own right.

“Terravestas clear mission of working with farmers to use some 5-10% of their marginal land area for growing miscanthus in a long term contract, paying a stable price, offers a good buffer in the face of volatility,” he says.

Jonathan argues that with this constant threat of volatility, renewable energy can be an essential safeguard. “Farmers dealing with weather volatility, rising energy costs, and fluctuating food and commodity prices that are currently low, can utilise renewable schemes to generate heat and power to offer extra income to support profitable farming.”

With renewable energy now surpassing coal and nuclear power as the leading electricity source for a whole quarter for the first time this year, there’s a lot to be positive about.

“Government statistics released recently stated that renewable energy outstripped coal, contributing a record 25% of electricity between April and June, compared to the same period the year before, when renewables contributed 16.4% of electricity. This means renewable energy is now number two after gas generation,” says Jonathan.

“The government has allocated RHI budgets up to April 2016 and the future of this scheme depends upon the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review due this autumn, with outcomes implemented by spring 2016. There is still hope for the RHI, with the government being aware that more support for renewable heating is required. And the draw for energy crops such as miscanthus, woodchip and straw for biomass is still growing.

“At the moment there are 12,000 non domestic biomass boilers in operation in the UK, and approximately 4,000 of these (one third) are in the agricultural sector. Thousands more are likely to be accredited by early next year, therefore biomass fuel demand is growing, and we should see a further increase on the current 1.5 million tonnes required per year,” he says.

Nevertheless, Jonathan says that in the absence of strong political opposition, the way forward must be to engage with pro-business advocates that champion the green economy and the greening role of small-to-medium sized enterprises. “The private sector should lead the transition to a low-carbon economy,” he adds.

According to David Jacobmeyer, Energy Now Expo director, “the speed and level of the proposed cuts have certainly taken the sector by surprise and as a result are causing problems across the board. But the subsidies were always there to get the wheels turning in the renewables industry.

“At some point, every industry needs to be looking in on itself and innovating to produce new technologies that will enable it to self-evolve.

“There are numerous initiatives that are driving the sector, not least energy crops, which is an area that will hopefully not be significantly affected by subsidy cuts.

“Biomass is an extremely good option, and miscanthus grown on poor grade marginal land is a fantastic source for heat. We have a dedicated energy crops section at the Energy Now Expo on February 11 & 12 2016, chaired by Lucy Hopwood, the NNFCC’s lead consultant for Bioenergy & Anaerobic Digestion, and William Cracroft-Eley Terravesta chairman, will be speaking in this session,” he concludes.

Jonathan Scurlock, NFU chief renewable energy and climate change adviser
David Jacobmeyer, Energy Now Expo director