It’s been called the most seismic political event of the last 40 to 50 years. We went to the polls on Thursday 23rd June, voting whether to stay within or leave the EU. Most pundits, bookies and pollsters said the result would be close but that remain had the edge. Many of us were expecting to wake up the next morning with little having changed. There was nothing to worry about. Really.
By mid-morning, however, David Cameron had resigned and Brexit had pinched the vote by a couple of percent. While half of the nation were rejoicing, the others were staring gloomily into their morning coffees wondering what the future held. We are in unchartered territory. We don’t even have a real Prime Minister to lead us through the coming months of turmoil.
But what does Brexit actually mean for the renewables industry? In a week when the first solar powered plane crossed the Atlantic under the power of the sun, Britain decided to cut political ties with the continent that had helped us bring together a coherent plan to grow the renewable energy industry and reduce our catastrophic impact on the environment. Before you begin to contemplate the UK becoming less involved in the environmental changes that are needed to save our planet, you might like to consider a few things.
First of all, the current Government had already introduced measures that set back the renewables industry in recent times, not least the slashing of Feed in Tariffs for solar. Secondly, the confused strategy in respect of our energy in the UK, as well as the uncertainty that has been created since the referendum was announced, has led to a reduction in investment in this area. Most of our woes to date have been the result of local initiatives, not the EU itself. Coming out may not have that big an effect, at least not in the way we think.
Having said that, nearly three quarters of the legislation for renewables and protecting the environment (including waste disposal and recycling) has come from EU directives. Whether these are part of the ‘unnecessary red tape’ that leavers complained about is difficult to assess. There are certainly those on the Tory side who are not only Eurosceptic but are climate change sceptic as well.
Could we see more focus on fracking? Well, again, that has little or nothing to do with the EU – the Government has been trying to push forward with it against public sentiment for a while now. What might change is if the legislation for objecting to or stalling such projects is tweaked to make it easier to get a licence or comply with new safety regulations.
Should we be fearing the future when it comes to renewables and other environmental protections? Actually, the UK has often gone a lot further than some of our European counterparts to make our world a better place. In fact, we have often led the arguments to get EU legislation and directives in place. The problem we have is that the current Government only wants this to happen if the ‘market allows’.
We probably need to avoid a certain degree of hysteria, stay calm and keep a stiff upper lip and all that British stuff. After all, we are not giving a blank cheque to our leaders and there are plenty of people in the UK to fight the good fight. But it doesn’t help when our media start producing headlines that suggest industries such as fracking are now going to be given free reign. As The Independent wrote recently:
“The current government has repeatedly suggested that it thinks regulation on fracking is too restrictive and has looked to influence Europe to allow oil and gas companies more freedom to undertake the controversial technique.”
So what about solar, wind and other renewable technologies? Much will depend on a lot of other factors which will affect every aspect of the UK. If the stock market does badly, if interest rates rise, if exchange rates crash, if house prices come down, if jobs are lost…of course, that’s looking on the most pessimistic side.
We could, of course, actually be entering a new and more fruitful period of UK history. Climate change and the renewable energy is not just a left wing utopian world view. There are plenty in the centre and on the right who believe that energy security, if not a low carbon future, are key in the next ten to thirty years.
For the moment, until we come out on the other side of this momentous decision, we’re not really going to have a certain idea of what is going to happen. All we can hope for is that our leaders will come together, make the right decisions and lead us towards the light. Nothing much, in that respect, has really changed.
One thing that might give remainers a little cause for optimism is what happened right after the result was announced. David Cameron had said that he would stay on as PM to see the Brexit through and that he would immediately implementing Article 50. He did neither. Instead, he resigned and said that implementing Article 50 would be a job for the next PM. This leaves the decision to quit the EU kicked into the long grass until the end of the summer. That means there could be a few more twists in the referendum plot before we are actually finished.