If you think the UK is in a difficult position as far as its relationship goes to the rest of Europe and the ongoing euro debt drama, consider the circumstances surrounding its energy and climate policies.
It’s all enough to make Prime Minister David Cameron wish he had never pledged to usher in “the greenest government ever” when his coalition began leading in 2010.
Yes, Britain’s base of renewable energy has expanded over the past year. The government reported last week that consumption of green energy rose by 27 percent from 2008 to 2010 (although, buried in the fine print is the fact that solar, hydro and wind/wave/tidal energy actually declined under Cameron’s watch … from 5.3 terawatt-hours in 2009 to 3.6 terawatt-hours in 2010). And Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, points to plans in the coming financial year for £2.5 billion worth of investment in renewable energy projects in the UK, with the potential to create almost 12,000 jobs.
At the same time, though, the government is trying to slash incentives — in the form of feed-in tariffs — for small-scale solar energy projects such as rooftop photovoltaics, a move that late last month was declared illegal by the country’s High Court. Solar industry executives such as Solarcentury’s Jeremy Leggett have called that decision an “absurdity” that threatens to bankrupt homegrown solar companies and put 25,000 people out of work. (Cameron’s government has until this Wednesday, Jan. 4, to appeal the High Court’s finding.)
While promising to meet EU goals of generating 15 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2020, Britain has also just issued 46 new licenses to explore for oil and gas in the North Sea, with Energy Minister Charles Hendry saying he looks forward to a “prosperous” 2012 for the nation’s fossil-fuel sector.
For a country where the latest statistics show that one in four citizens is experiencing “fuel poverty,” it would seem to make sense to try and squeeze every last kilowatt of energy possible from every source, low-carbon or otherwise. But how then to explain the attempt to strangle the domestic burgeoning solar industry in its infancy? Two phrases come to mind for a nation aggressively pursuing austerity measures at the same time it’s trying to boost energy security: “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and “desperate.”