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Dr. Jane Goodall

Britain pulls plug on renewables

| Modified 22 Dec, 2015 | Views 1588

Government officials say the time had come to allow renewable energy firms to live or die on their own.

On eve of Paris climate summit, Britain pulls the plug on renewables

LONDON — After standing dormant for 34 years, the Bankside Power Station was reborn last month. The onetime oil-fired, soot-spewing electric power plant, shut down and then converted into the Tate Modern, the world’s most popular contemporary art museum, is back producing energy again.

The moves have baffled environmentalists, business leaders and even many government allies. Britain has long been in the vanguard of efforts to combat global warming. It has been expected to play a leading role — alongside the Obama administration — in efforts to secure a package of tough reforms at the U.N. climate change summit in Paris, which kicks off at the end of this month.

It’s not just the subsidy cuts that are hurting renewable energy in Britain. Cheap fossil fuels have made it tough for solar and wind to compete, even as the technology behind green energy matures and costs tumble. Van den Heuvel estimated that solar power is at least several years away from matching the price of more conventional fuels.

Britain is not alone in reducing support for renewable energy. Countries across the West are weaning those industries from the subsidies that have made them competitive with dirtier fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Germany and Spain have scaled back ambitious incentive programs, citing higher than expected public costs. The major tax credit for solar power in the United States is due to expire at the end of next year.

As other countries bolster their green commitments in the run-up to Paris, a top U.N. scientist last month singled out Britain for sending “a very perverse signal” by eliminating support for onshore wind energy and proposing to slash solar subsidies by nearly 90 percent.

Government officials say the time had come to allow renewable energy firms to live or die on their own.

“We have a duty to protect consumers and keep bills as low as possible while we reduce emissions,” said the energy secretary, Amber Rudd, in a speech explaining the moves. “Decarbonization has to be sensitive to the impact it has on people’s pockets.”

The changes began in June with the elimination of subsidies for onshore wind farms. That shift, at least, was unsurprising: Conservative backbenchers had demanded it for years, blaming giant white turbines for marring views across the once-pristine British countryside. Of all the renewable energies, wind power is also the closest to reaching price parity with more traditional fuels — meaning it needs less support.

But the government has shown little willingness to bend, rolling out a slew of other changes that experts say amount to a significant weakening of its carbon-reduction strategy: It eliminated a program to promote energy efficiency in homes, reduced the incentive to buy fuel-efficient cars and forced businesses that use renewable energy to pay a carbon levy.

So why are we still using coal? For the same reasons we always have: It’s cheap, plentiful, easy to transport and easy to acquire.


On eve of Paris climate summit, Britain pulls the plug on renewables





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