As early adopters of renewable energy we are alarmed by the recent government proposals to cut subsidies to the sector by drastically reducing Feed in Tariffs and through other counterproductive measures. It was recently revealed just how much we all effectively subsidise fossil fuels, which have harmful effects on both human health and climate, through tax breaks – the IMF estimate of $5.3tn in fossil fuel subsidies represents 6.5% of global GDP. These figures dwarf the renewable sector subsidies and keep us on the path to runaway climate change, while 1.6 million worldwide die every year due to outdoor air pollution mostly caused by fossil fuels.
We know that Feed in Tariffs have greatly benefited those who could afford to pay for the technology but they have also fostered a thriving community-owned energy sector, and brought the technology prices down. It may not be the fairest way to help the UK switch to a low carbon economy but even those on low income can benefit from free solar panel schemes, such as the one promoted in York by Yorkshire Energy Partnership, or community-owned projects such as Chase Solar which will be putting solar panels on social housing. These schemes help directly tackle fuel poverty by reducing energy bills whilst the abandonment of national zero carbon homes plans is likely to result in even less energy efficient homes in the future.
While the subsidies do impact on people’s energy bills, it’s very hard to find a figure of how much. Estimates vary widely from £5 to £50 per household but shouldn’t be more than 3% of the bill. The big six energy companies are likely to be profiting more than that and the majority of them have recently stopped offering green tariffs. Clearly switching to a low carbon future is not a priority for them. The reason why the government wants to cut the subsidies is because they’ve done better than expected and the budget is projected to overspend by 20% by 2020. Yet, they’re proposing sudden cuts to subsidies of more than 80% from January 2016, which is too much too soon.
Yes, there are technical issues with plugging renewable sources into the national grid which requires huge upgrades and smartening up. However, these can be resolved and, coupled with an increased drive for energy reductions, renewable energy is one of the best ways to help us tackle climate change and provide energy security. When eight nuclear power stations were down and Didcot gas power station was in flames last October, it was wind energy that kept the lights on by providing almost 25% of all energy needed around the country. Zero Carbon Britain is achievable and renewable energy has a big role to play to deliver this positive vision. Now we need politicians to adopt it as their own.
What can we all do?
These are just a few ideas to get you started – please let us know if you have any others you’d like to share.
by Ivana Jakubkova
St Nicks Events Officer and a founding member of York Community Energy