Environment

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Green Policies Cut


In 2010, as a result of an EU Climate Change Act all five main parties included renewable obligations in their manifesto. This act was a formalisation of country targets across the EU states [1].

Renewable sources of energy publishing.service.gov.uk

As can be seen from Figure 1, the government have been successful in increasing the use of renewable energy up until 2018 [2]. However in recent times they have walked away from renewable policy and the graph has levelled off.

The process of increasing renewable power generation had started in 2002 with the Renewables Obligation (2005 in Northern Ireland) requiring electricity suppliers to supply a proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. This was set at 3% in 2002, increasing to 10.4% by 2010-12 and increasing to 15.4% by 2015-16 [3]. The Labour party announced an additional target of 20% by 2020-21. The long term target was to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 80% by 2050 based on 1990 emissions. The government has had success in meetings its targets up until now, although in many ways the first 20% is the easiest. It is once you reach the 30% to 40% mark that you have to be more driven to hit your targets as further reductions become much more harder to find. In the face of this the government have started to backtrack on their efforts, scrapping subsidies and promoting fracking

One of the key drivers to improve electricity companies renewable energy usage was the feed-in tariff regime where consumers installing solar panels received a tariff for feeding into the electricity network. This scheme has now been scrapped. See Domestic Solar Panels for more details of the scheme and the impact of scrapping it.

In 2015 Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary said she was halting subsidies to a number of green policies on the grounds that the technology should stand on its own feet and save bill payers money.

Subsidies were ended for the following:[4]

  • Subsidies were ended for On-Shore Wind Farms in 2015
    • The writing had been on the wall for onshore wind farms since February 2012 when 101 backbench Conservative party MPs wrote to David Cameron demanding “dramatic cuts” in subsidies.
    • onshore wind can be the most cost-efficient way of producing low carbon energy
  • solar installations of less than five megawatts – enough to power 2,500 homes had their subsidies ended in 2016
  • The government also confirmed in 2016 that it was removing the guaranteed level of subsidy for coal or other fossil fuelled-power stations which are converting to wood or another biomass fuel
  • In 2015, the government killed off the green deal, its “transformational” way of helping homeowners bring down their energy bills through installing insulation, and fitting new boilers and draught-proofing. There is no energy efficiency policy for homes, which account for around a third of UK carbon emissions.
  • The Green Investment Bank (GIB) was launched in 2012.
  • The incentive to buy a greener car was undermined in 2017
    • Anyone who buying a new car paid a different rate for excise duty for the first year based on how polluting the car , a system which continues every year thereafter.
    • The excise duty ranged from free for electric cars to £505 for the dirtiest.
    • In 2017 the excise duty on purchase was changed to £140 regardless of how polluting the car is
    • Friends of the Earth says a greener car will now cost £1,000 more over seven years.
  • Giving up on zero carbon homes
    • A decade-long plan to force all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 was binned by the Treasury in 2015
    • Major housing developers said the decision was “extremely disappointing”, a view that was echoed by planners, green groups and the designer of a new ‘carbon positive’ house that just opened in Wales
  • Fracking in Britain’s most important nature sites
    • Rudd said in January 2015 that fracking wouldn’t be allowed in sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs)
    • In July 2015 she changed her mind, opening the door to fracking in thousands of SSSIs in England, Wales and Scotland, if the shale companies can get past planners
  • Green tax target scrapped
    • A target set during the last government to keep increasing the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes was dropped in Osborne’s 2015 emergency budget
  • Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay rejected - see section Tidal Barrages for more details

In the case of nuclear power the government – like its predecessors of all political stripes seem mesmerised by atomic power and are willing to provide extremely generous financial support and other help to kickstart a renaissance. Britain’s first planned new nuclear plant for over 25 years at Hinkley Point in Somerset is backed by government but faces all sorts of other hurdles such as uncertain equity investors, legal challenges and ever-increasing costs and delays, which could scupper it yet.

Offshore wind, much more expensive than onshore farms, has so far escaped the axe although there are plenty of Tory critics willing to decry the cost and claim it is a blot on the seascape.



Green Investment Bank


The Green Investment Bank (GIB) was established to help green projects with an initial injection of £3.8bn of public money. In reality it was never a bank but rather an investment vehicle. It could not lend or borrow and was reliant on seed money from the government to make investments. It was first put forward by the Labour government in 2008[1] and was included in the manifesto of all 5 main parties.

Launched in 2012, with cross party support, to help green projects with an initial injection of £3.8bn of public money, the green investment bank is probably the example cited most often by George Osborne and David Cameron in their defence of the government’s environmental record. But in 2015 the business secretary, Sajid Javid, decided to sell off 70% of the bank. In 2017 GIB was sold to Macquarie in entirety [2].

The GIB was government seeded because it had been difficult to persuade other investment venicles to invest in the green industry, the idea being to provide the necessary funding to kickstart the green economy. It was set up as a private concern, but was in reality 100% government owned and funded. It's role was very much to part fund green projects and attract private investors. It was reasonably successful with a ratio of 2.5 to 1.0 of private investors to GIB funding [3].

One of the key failings of the GIB was that it didn't establish a sustainable UK industry to further green objectives, but rather acted as a grant provider to realise large projects. For example its investment spread was 46% of capital to offshore wind and 34% to waste and bioenergy. Because GIB never established itself as an investment bank it remained reliant of government funding. In 2015 the goverment decided that it could no longer afford to fund the GIB and decided to sell it off. Although the bids for the sale of GIB were below expectation, the government were keen to get it off their books and sold to Macquarie [4].

The Tories funded the GIB to the tune of £3.8bn, with the GIB seeing a 10% return on investment. The bank had gained a good level of respectability by the time it was sold. However at the sale launch, only 16% of the equity portfolio was operational and generating income for GIB. The remaining assets were expected to become operational by March 2018 [5].

The protracted nature of the sale with the delay and uncertainty throughout the sale process led to the loss of key GIB staff, and affected GIB’s ability to continue investing in projects. The GIB was finally sold for £2.3 billion if loss to the taxpayer of more than £1.5 billion [6].

The government intended GIB to continue contributing to green financing to help the UK meet its climate change obligations and commitments. The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that the UK must invest around 0.1% of annual GDP in infrastructure to meet the Climate Change Act 2008 objectives. Macquarie intends GIB to become its platform for investments in green infrastructure projects in the UK and internationally. Macquarie has made a series of public, but non-binding, commitments regarding the future of GIB and its role in the green economy, including:• commitment to GIB’s green objectives and the Green Principles;• continue to invest across sectors such as energy efficiency, biomass, energy from waste, onshore wind, offshore wind, solar, tidal and energy storage;• target GIB to invest, or arrange new investment, over £3 billion in the three years following completion;• to maintain GIB’s independence, brand, and Edinburgh office; and• to support BEIS’s UK Climate Investments (UKCI) pilot [7].

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee says the government sold off its control of green investment too cheaply, and with little acknowledgement of the benefits it could have had [8] .


  1. Green Investment Bank: The History, 2013: https://www.e3g.org/library/green-investment-bank-the-history
  2. The sale of the Green Investment Bank: a dodgy deal in more ways than one, The New Statesman, 18 May 2018: https://www.newstatesman.com/spotlight/energy/2018/05/sale-green-investment-bank-dodgy-deal-more-ways-one
  3. Pages 4, National Audit Office, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government Investments, The Green Investment Bank, 12 December 2017: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/The-Green-Investment-Bank.pdf
  4. Pages 4-7, National Audit Office, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government Investments, The Green Investment Bank, 12 December 2017: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/The-Green-Investment-Bank.pdf
  5. Page 31, National Audit Office, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government Investments, The Green Investment Bank, 12 December 2017: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/The-Green-Investment-Bank.pdf
  6. Page 39, National Audit Office, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government Investments, The Green Investment Bank, 12 December 2017: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/The-Green-Investment-Bank.pdf
  7. Green Investment Bank under fire for loss of UK focus, Financial Times, 6 January 2019: https://www.ft.com/content/9b1aa5e4-11a5-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e
  8. Public Accounts Committee, The Sale of the Green Investment Bank inquiry, 14 March 2018: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/sale-green-investment-bank-17-19/


Tidal Energy


Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay

The Tidal Lagoon is a proposed tidal lagoon power plant that was to be constructed in Swansea Bay off the south coast of Wales, United Kingdom, however, the plan in its current form has been rejected by the UK Government [1]. The logic for rejecting the tidal lagoon is that it does not provide as much electricity as an offshore installation. This is true as the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay would have had a load factor of 19% compared to around 50% for offshore wind power. However tidal power is much more consistent in supply than wind power and Swansea would provide enough electricity for 155,000 homes. While the Tidal Lagoon requires a large number of workers in manufacturing to build, it requires few workers to run. As their is many areas around the UK coast that would suit the Tidal Lagoon solution, it provides a massive opportunity for the UK to become world leaders in the industry [2].

In February 2019, the Guardian reported that Swansea tidal lagoon plan has been revived – without the need for government funding. It is reported that Swansea-based Tidal Power plc has several major companies interested in buying the low-carbon electricity generated by the tide flowing through turbines in a concrete wall along Swansea bay. Property company Land Securities, Cardiff airport and developer Berkeley Group are among those to have expressed an interest in signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the lagoon [3].

Liverpool tidal power plant

A few different factors make the Mersey an ideal place for a barrage. Its tidal range (the difference in water level between high and low tide) can be 10 metres or more at spring tides – the UK’s second highest, while a narrow channel at its entrance (known as “The Narrows”) means the barrage could be shorter and thus cheaper to construct. It’s also close to a large urban area, with lots of electricity demand.

The barrage would provide electricity for 300,000 homes.

At the moment the government is refusing to fund the barrage. Labour have said they would fund it [4].


  1. Proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, Statement by Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark on the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, 25 June 2018: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/proposed-swansea-bay-tidal-lagoon
  2. https://twitter.com/charles_hendry/status/1011611091837779970?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
  3. Swansea tidal lagoon plan revived – without government funding, Guardian, 4 February 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/04/swansea-tidal-lagoon-plan-government
  4. Liverpool: huge tidal power plant on the Mersey could make city a renewable energy hotspot, 1 August 2019: https://theconversation.com/liverpool-huge-tidal-power-plant-on-the-mersey-could-make-city-a-renewable-energy-hotspot-120958


Domestic Solar Panels


Source: DECC – Department of Energy & Climate Change, Statistics – Solar photovoltaics deployment (period from 2010 onward

With the subsidies first given to home solar panel installation there was a massive uptake. The initial rate was 43p per kWh, which while this is generous had the high impact on solar panel take up. Since 2010 the subsidy fell in steps to finally be scrapped altogether in 2019. Their is reasonable evidence that solar panels are still cost effective, but this tends to come with many "ifs". In reality solar panels remain cost effective if you can utilise them to their full potential all year round [1].

Since the government ended subsidies for solar panels the industry has seen take up collapse. The government has said it is working on a replacement scheme, but in the meantime solar panel providers / installers have no clue as to when. Should the government come up with another subsidy scheme, it is unlikely that many would re-enter the industry due to lack of forward reassurances by the government and the history of cutting subsidies just as the industry finds its feet. Subsidies were cut initially 2016 and this saw a contraction of solar panel installation [2].

In 2019 the new solar panel industry has all but disapeared with solar panel installation down by 94%. The government said that solar panel users should give their electricity to the main providers for free until a new scheme was put in place. [3].


  1. Are Solar Panels Worth It in 2019? Yes, Solar Power Costs around 9p/kWh: https://blog.spiritenergy.co.uk/homeowner/are-solar-panels-worth-it
  2. UK home solar power faces cloudy outlook as subsidies are axed, Guardian, 27June 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/27/uk-home-solar-power-subsidies-costs-battery-technology
  3. Home solar panel installations fall by 94% as subsidies scrapped, Guardian, 5 June 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/05/home-solar-panel-installations-fall-by-94-as-subsidies-cut


Fracking


Definition

Fracking process.PNG

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) is a method of extracting shale gas and oil. It works by pumping water, tightly regulated chemicals down a well to make small hairline cracks in rocks underground. The cracks are propped open by sand contained in the fluid so that shale gas can flow out of the shale into the well.

Pollution

Millions of gallons of water are used in the fracking process, which directly reduces the amount of clean water available to surrounding residents. When water is not available to fracking sites locally, it may be transported from other regions, ultimately drawing down available water from lakes and rivers across the country. Water contamination could also reduce the overall water supply of regional fracking areas, as the chemicals that are used in the process have the propensity to leak back into local water supplies.

Waste water is also an issue at fracking sites. Between 20% and 40% of the water used for fracking that is returned to the ground surface consists of toxic contaminants. The presence of wastewater has harmful ramifications for the environment, as it cannot be easily treated and returned to a usable state – for purposes other than fracking. In addition to air and water pollution, fracking also increases the potential for oil spills, which can harm the soil and surrounding vegetation [1].

Earthquakes

Fracking was halted at the Lancashire fracking site on 21st August 2019 due to a 1.6 magnitude tremor. Work must stop if a tremor measuring over the magnitude of 0.5 [2].

Only two days later the Lancashire site suffered atremor measuring 1.05 on the Richter scale [3].

Following the suspension of Fracking a tremor measuring 2.1 on Richter scale recorded at the Lancashire fracking site. According to the British Geological Survey, the tremor had a depth of 1.2 miles and was felt by residents in areas including Great Plumpton, Blackpool and Lytham St Annes. Stephen Hicks, seismologist at Imperial College London, said the movement was almost as strong as a 2.3-magnitude tremor at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site in 2011, which led to the suspension of fracking in the UK for seven years [4][5].

On 26 August 2019 the Lancashire site suffered the a 2.9 scale earthquake. The largest recorded earthquake in the UK caused by fracking [6].

Carbon footprint

One of the main chemicals released in the fracking process is methane, and it is estimated that 4% of it escapes into the atmosphere during extraction. Also the use of gas in providing our energy needs has a large impact on our carbon footprint. The leaks from fracking sites is not the only factor to be considered. Gas travelling to homes is obviously subject to leaks. This escapes into the atmosphere as methane. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is one of the greenhouse gases that is critical to remove from our emmisions. Fracking is heading in the opposite direction [7].


  1. Investopedia, May 8, 2019: https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/011915/what-are-effects-fracking-environment.asp
  2. Lancashire fracking: 1.6 magnitude tremor halts work, BBC, 22 August 2019: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lancashire-49431457
  3. Second earthquake stops work at UK's only fracking site just days after largest tremor recorded, Independent, 24 August 2019: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/earthquake-fracking-cuadrilla-preston-new-road-lancashire-climate-change-a9077371.html
  4. Tremor measuring 2.1 on Richter scale recorded at UK fracking site, Lancashire Telegraph, 25 August 2019: https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/national/17859392.tremor-measuring-2-1-richter-scale-recorded-uk-fracking-site/
  5. The shadow of Preese Hall over UK fracking regulations, 28 October 2018: https://drillordrop.com/2018/10/28/the-shadow-of-preese-hall-over-uk-fracking-regulations/
  6. Blackpool earthquake: Largest ever tremor hits UK's only fracking site, Independent, 26 August 2019: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/blackpool-earthquake-today-fracking-tremor-preston-new-road-a9078971.html
  7. Environment Defense Fund: https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-other-important-greenhouse-gas


Carbon subsidy


The UK has biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU. The EU found the UK provides £10.5bn a year in support for fossil fuels, significantly more than the £6.8bn spent on renewable energy. These figures are from 2016 and as can be seen from the sectionGreen Policies Cut, renewable subsidies have been radically cut since the figures were released. Germany provided the biggest energy subsidies, with €27bn for renewable energy, almost three times the €9.5bn given to fossil fuels [1][2].


  1. UK has biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU, finds commission, Guardian, 23 January 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/23/uk-has-biggest-fossil-fuel-subsidies-in-the-eu-finds-commission
  2. REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS, Energy prices and costs in Europe, 9 January 2019: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=COM:2019:1:FIN&from=EN


Conclusion


All main parties entered the 2010 with a manifesto committments to meet the EU Climate Change Act. This brought in some very positive policies that brought about a growth in renewable energy provision. However the Tories seem to completely abandoned these targets now, practically removing all subsidies and encouraging fracking. The slant of subsidies has moved away from the individual to large corporations.