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Commitments? What Commitments?

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Guardian front page
“Britain seeks loophole in EU green energy targets” trumpeted The Guardian yesterday, as if this is something new that hasn’t been on the cards for months. Back in August, newspapers reported that Government ministers had been told that Britain has no hope of meeting its commitment to renewable energy and should consider ways of getting out of it (‘Wriggle out of challenging energy targets, ministers told‘).

What is new this time round is that the UK has formally broached the idea of changing the way that EU targets are calculated to make them easier, and cheaper, to meet. At a closed session of the Energy Council of Ministers, Baroness Vadera, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Competitiveness, made two proposals:

  • British investments in renewable energy anywhere in the world should count as part of UK’s effort
  • All EU countries should be allowed to count carbon “saved” from coal-fired stations fitted with equipment that captures harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The electricity generated by this “clean coal” would then count as renewable energy and go towards UK national targets.

The logic behind this doublethink is pretty clear: Britain is desperate to postpone or scale back investment in renewable energy projects. This reflects a significant shift towards nuclear energy. Energy Secretary John Hutton has this week spoken out in favour of a major expansion of the British nuclear and coal industries, going beyond merely replacing existing capacity. President Sarkozy’s state visit confirmed that the French nuclear industry will be involved in developing four British nuclear power stations, with the potential for more to follow.

All this costs money, in spite of the mantra of ‘zero subsidy’. The government’s touching faith in the power of the market has led to private investment in renewables going abroad. Last December we reported how Renewable Energy Holdings, the AIM-listed UK green technology company, was investing in a Polish wind farm (‘Renewable Energy‘). From the private investment angle, this makes perfect financial sense: cheaper land, lower construction costs, a faster and more liberal planning system. The government’s problem is that it’s saddled with targets which it’s assuming will be fulfilled by the private sector. If market forces drive investment in renewables to other EU member states, or beyond, how can domestic targets be met? Small wonder that the government is looking to renegotiate its obligations.

But I’d still like to know how they think they can convince anyone that burning coal counts as renewable energy.

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Written by Pete Smith

March 30, 2008 at 8:19 pm

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