This month, the Government published its Clean Growth Strategy: a plan to seize the opportunities of low-carbon economic growth. The tone is ambitious and the policy content is strong: there are 50 proposals spanning energy efficiency, renewables supply and clean transport to tree-planting and waste reduction.
Yet an environmental gap remains: projected emissions for 2023–2030 are still far above the UK’s legally-binding commitments under the Climate Change Act. The Government signals in the strategy that it will balance out some of the expected “overspend” in emissions later in the 2020s by writing it off against carbon underspend now.
Far better would be to redouble efforts in some of the policy areas that are missing from the Strategy: support for solar, community energy, and wider biodiversity.
On solar, there is a background assumption in the strategy that solar will be an important component of the UK’s cleaner future, but few specific measures. At the household level, reduced VAT rates will be available for buying battery storage for new installations, but not for adding storage to solar that’s already in place. At the bigger scale, nor will Government “contract for difference” subsidies be available for innovative new solar installations with large-scale battery storage. Surely these are major gaps that the Treasury could remedy in this year’s Autumn Statement.
On community energy, there are some fun ideas for developing public support for clean energy, like a new “Green Great Britain Week”, starting in 2018. One to link up with Community Energy Fortnight, perhaps? The strategy also raises some serious questions about local supply options. As Westmill has shown in its work with Energy Local and Piclo, there are great opportunities available for energy efficiency and cost savings with innovation in local energy supply. This will be taken forward with a new competition for innovation in flexible markets and a new Local Energy Programme. To be successful, this should have a clear community focus, and use smart tech to give a fairer price to local generators and allow communities that host renewables to benefit from lower bills.
On biodiversity, there’s a clear focus on tree-planting and peatland renewal as a way to lock up carbon, but a long way to go on restoring nature as a way to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. That’s left to the forthcoming 25 year environment plan; clear and binding objectives for nature in the plan would balance the natural environment side of the equation with the powerful policy foundations in place for carbon and energy.
When Westmill Directors met the Minister, Claire Perry, as part of the Climate Coalition Week of action, we spoke about the need not just to meet climate targets, but to put greener growth at the heart of the Government’s thinking. The Clean Growth Strategy achieves that change in rhetoric and brings some serious policy in support. A clearer focus on community energy, solar opportunities and restoring nature in the months to come will help bring the bold words to life.
We’ll be responding to the Strategy as Westmill Solar, welcoming the tone while proposing a sharper focus on community renewables. If you want to join us, you can write to the Government about the Clean Growth Strategy here: CleanGrowthStrategy@beis.gov.uk. Let’s back up the ambition with a call for a cleaner, community-focused future.
Written by: Richard Benwell, Director of Westmill Solar