Renewables industry urges government to clarify post-2020 targets

The renewables energy industry has again called on the government to urgently clarify its plans for low-carbon energy development after 2020, following the release of a controversial submission to the EU, which argues the bloc should abandon specific renewable energy targets post-2020.

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey yesterday responded to Guardian reports on the document by insisting the government remained “100 per cent committed” to the renewable energy sector and the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets.

But he argued that after 2020 it would be more effective for nations to set broader clean energy targets that allow them to deploy their own mix of low-carbon technologies, including renewable energy, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage plants.

“The UK is one of a number of countries that believe any new targets should be technology-neutral, leaving member states free to determine the most cost-effective energy mix to get the best deal for consumers,” he wrote.

“Our communication to the commission explicitly states the UK is not in any way against renewables – far from it. Renewables will play a key role in the future UK energy mix, helping to reduce import dependency and meet our carbon targets.”

A spokesman for trade association RenewableUK said the group was encouraged by Davey’s vocal commitment to the sector, but again urged ministers to provide further clarity on its plans for low-carbon energy development post-2020.

The EU submission, which has been published on the DECC website after being leaked to the Guardian, clearly hints the UK would like to see non-technology specific clean energy targets adopted for 2030. But with it also acknowledging that it “would welcome a discussion of the pros and cons of such an approach in due course” it seems unlikely new EU targets will be finalised in the near future.

“We have been calling for clarity on proposed electricity market reforms and long-term investment plans for a very long time,” said a RenewableUK spokesman. “So we would reiterate we need that clarity if we are to drive the long-term investment needed to meet our carbon targets.

“We have seen that wind energy companies are ready to invest, but they want that short- and long-term clarity if they are to seal the deal, particularly given the long payback period for these types of project… Targets are helpful as they ensure everyone stays on course; otherwise, you just end up with aspirations that are too vague.”

In addition, green groups accused the government of attempting to fudge clean energy targets for 2030, after the document stated “the UK government’s analysis suggests that for the UK to meet its 2050 targets cost-effectively, the electricity sector will need to decarbonise during the 2030s”.

Critics argued that any target which allows for decarbonisation “during the 2030s” would represent a major watering down of targets recommended by the independent Committee on Climate Change, which has called for electricity generation to be “almost entirely decarbonised by 2030”.

A DECC spokesman insisted there was “no contradiction” between the government’s position and the committee’s recommendations, which set out a number of different paths for decarbonisation of the electricity sector around 2030.

However, Joss Garman, senior campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the document and the suggestion that the electricity sector may not be decarbonised until 2039 indicated the government was attempting to give itself space for a slower transition towards low-carbon energy sources.

“Ministers appear to have caved in to fierce lobbying by companies such as British Gas and Shell, which have been fighting to keep the UK hooked on expensive, imported and highly polluting gas to power our economy,” he said, noting the document also confirms the government’s proposed emissions performance standard will allow for the continued construction of new gas-fired power plants in the short term.

“If the coalition doesn’t change course we’ll pay the price in jobs and investment. The likes of Siemens, General Electric and Mitsubishi are looking to invest huge sums in UK manufacturing to capitalise on our immense renewable energy potential, but by shifting the energy goalposts at the behest of big polluters ministers are sending the message that Britain isn’t open for clean-tech business.”

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