Still ‘the greenest Government ever?’ by Rolf Stein, CEO

The past couple of weeks have been an exciting time for anyone in the renewable energy industry.  David Cameron’s Government has re-doubled its efforts to be seen as the ‘greenest Government ever’.  The consensus is that – pending delivery of promised support and initiatives – these attempts have been broadly successful.  The Green Investment Bank is on course to begin lending; reform of the electricity market will be tackled in this Parliamentary session; and, perhaps most importantly, the Coalition has shown that it is once again happy to publically state its support for renewable energy.  What the renewables industry is now asking, is whether the Government can follow these impressive headlines with a concrete and convincing boost to green energy.

Back in the summer of 2010, when the Coalition came to power, David Cameron famously pledged that his would be the ‘greenest government ever’.  However, in recent months the Government has been accused by some in the media of reneging on these promises.  From George Osborne’s attack on ‘costly’ renewable policies last autumn, to an ominous absence of green commitments in last month’s Budget, many in the green energy industry feared that the Coalition’s resolve to support and develop the green energy sector was faltering.  However, recent weeks have seen a raft of pro-renewables reports and announcements which indicate that the Government is once again on the side of renewable energy.

Rumours of a pro-green policy announcement began circulating towards the end of April.  In the same week that the UK hosted energy ministers from around the world at the Clean Energy Ministerial 2012, several green-friendly initiatives and policies were announced; on 19 April, Nick Clegg and Energy Secretary Ed Davey issued a statement calling for more ambitious EU emissions reduction targets; soon afterwards, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced £80m of funding for waste-to-energy technologies through the Green Investment Bank.  Finally, on 24 April, the Renewable Energy Association and Innovas published a report which for the first time quantified the economic benefit the renewables industry delivers to the UK.  This report demonstrated that the renewables industry injects some £12.5bn into the UK economy each year, and supports over 100,000 jobs – a figure which, with the right investment, could rise to over 400,000.  Armed with these statistics, and with the media warmed up by these announcements, and the stage was set for a policy announcement from the Prime Minister.

He did not disappoint.  On 26 April, David Cameron gave his much-anticipated address to the assembled Clean Energy Ministerial.  Here, the Prime Minister confirmed that he was still committed to leading ’the greenest government ever’.  In this speech, the Prime Minister praised the steps the Government had already taken to support green energy, notably the Renewable Heat Initiative and the Green Investment Bank; he also elaborated on the REA/Innovas report, listing the overseas investment and job-creation the green investment would bring to the British economy, and stating his intention to make the UK a world-leader in exporting renewable technologies.  In short, Mr Cameron left the public in little doubt that, as far as his Government is concerned, ‘green’ and ‘growth’ go very well together.

So, after a fortnight of policy announcements and media fuss, can the Prime Minister rightly claim to head up ‘the greenest Government ever?’.  Ultimately, only time will tell.  David Cameron’s announcement hopefully marks an acceleration in Government support for renewables.  Already, these commitments are being translated into policy.  The Queen’s speech at the State Opening of Parliament announced several pieces of legislation related to the renewable industry which we can expect to see in coming months.  Legislation will be put in place to launch the Green Investment Bank, and an Electricity Market Reform Bill will pave the way for great incorporation of low-carbon technologies into the electricity market.  These policy commitments are a great start – but creating new energy infrastructures and supporting developing technologies takes far longer than the span of a single parliament.  The renewable energy industry must wait and see whether the ‘greenest Government ever’ can indeed live up to its reputation.

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