Public opinion, when galvanised, can achieve great things. Get your story on the news, keep it there and previous policies that seemed set in stone begin to waver. Take the current furore over tax credits. There’s plenty of negative press for the Government, professing to be on the side of ordinary working people, and if the Lord’s decide to block the legislation when they debate the issue next week, we could see something of a U-turn in the days to come.
Most of us, unless we have been hiding in a bunker, are aware of the migrant issue and those fleeing the trouble in Syria and surrounding regions. Voices have been loud, tough and unwilling to compromise, pushing the Government into an uncomfortable corner.
It’s a different story for the renewables industry, however, now under threat in a way it has never been before. Getting the story out there and making people angry enough to complain is proving more difficult. Yes, there are the usual, vociferous advocates who bang their fists and talk of the meltdown of the green agenda. But ask most ordinary citizens if they are aware the industry is being damaged by a Government that is intent on cutting costs and you may get a polite shrug.
Even the announcement that we are going to spend billions on a new nuclear plant whilst other countries like Germany are moving away from the technology is only likely to engender a wistful scratching of heads amongst the general public. Tell them their fuel bills are going up 5% this winter and they’ll be out on the street with banners and pithy chants.
The truth is there may not be enough noise to save us from the Feed in Tariff cuts before the changes come in force early next year. We may not realise the impact on a national level until renewable projects start to fail and close because they are no longer viable. By then, it will be too late. It may already be.
The fact that a number of solar companies have folded or packed up and left because of the impending Feed in Tariff cut has been superseded by news that our steel industry is in meltdown, pumped to the top of the agenda by the timely (or untimely) visit of China’s big cheese. Despite most news outlets on TV and in the press running the story of a respected UN scientist calling the Government short sighted in their approach on renewables, it hardly made a splash with the general public.
Alas, that is just what the renewable industry needs. Industry leaders may take the time to write group letters to David Cameron but their voice, unfortunately, is not as powerful as the nuclear and fossil fuel lobby who subsist far more freely than our much needed energy alternatives. There is news that the oil and gas lobby are moving on the climate change summit in Paris this November, demanding that they are given a fairer deal (as if several trillions of dollars of worldwide subsidies weren’t enough).
There are just a few short months to go before the FiT cuts come into effect. Before then we have the results of the consultation that the Government will do their best to ignore even if it says that those tariffs should remain in place to support the industry. Whilst the Solar Trade Association is this week professing that solar could provide the same power as Hinkley at half the subsidy cost, no one seems to be listening.
According to Head of Policy Mike Landy:
“We are not saying that solar is the solution to all our energy problems, nor that it could completely replace other technologies. However the Government needs to explain why it is drastically cutting support for solar energy whilst offering double the subsidy to Hinkley Point C. It also needs to explain why it is championing overseas state-backed utilities over British solar companies which given stable support would have considerable growth prospects.”
Unless something remarkable happens within the next few months, we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that the renewables industry is going to flounder. Without the combined noise of the industry, investors and, more importantly, the people, the Government will be free to do what it sees fit, even if they have no idea what they are actually doing.