Ministers from the governments of Scotland and Wales have slammed energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd’s proposed renewable cuts, claiming that they will “significantly damage” future community energy programmes.
In a joint letter written by Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing and Wales’ natural resources minister Carl Sargeant, the pair took aim at the decision to cut subsidy support for onshore wind as well as proposals to close Renewables Obligation support for sub-5MW solar farms and end small-scale feed-in tariff pre-accreditation.
Central to the pairs’ argument is an alleged lack of dialogue between the Department for Energy and Climate Change and both Scotland and Wales over the changes, as well as a lack of advance notice which they claim will “have an impact that is far more disruptive than was necessary”.
DECC officials claimed that they could not assess the possible impact of recent proposals, however Ewing and Sargeant claim that not only would their respective governments have helped conduct an assessment, but as recently as July the Welsh government offered support in the form of information regarding its own schemes to help the feed-in tariff consultation.
“We agree that [it] is difficult to estimate the impact. However, your assessment on the Renewables Obligation impact clearly set out that there was little economic difference between the case for continuing the current level of support, and that for the proposed course: however, the benefits from the reduction in support accrue in the shorter term and the costs in the longer term,” the letter stated.
Sargeant also raised his country’s legal commitments to the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which insists Welsh public bodies act in a sustainable way and take into account the future impact of policy decisions, which would prevent Wales supporting subsidy cuts due to their “short termism”.
“Given that it is likely to leave future administrations, to fund the long term costs, and these economic and climate impacts lie within our devolved remits, we are very concerned about the lack of involvement in this decision,” the letter stated.
The letter reserved extensive criticism for the likely impact of proposed changes on community energy programmes, which the pair believe to be more exposed to subsidy cuts given their lack of resources to swallow losses and ability to progress projects rapidly.
Ewing and Sargeant considered the impact of the changes to be a hiatus for the small-scale industry until either changes to the retail price of electricity or technological advances in energy storage make projects commercially viable without subsidy.
“If this assessment is correct, the broader implications are likely to include stalling of the community energy sector beyond projects that have been pre-accredited by 22 July, and commensurate loss of local supply chains, and well-paid jobs in the consultancy, delivery and maintenance of projects, leading to increased joblessness and poverty,” the letter read.
The letter has called for “meaningful dialogue” regarding potential mechanisms to extend support for community renewable energy programmes having argued that the changes will “significantly damage” the prospects for local ownership of energy generation.
Ewing used the 9MW community energy project on the Isle of Lewis – the largest community-owned wind farm in the UK – which generates £1 million of benefits for the local community each year.
“However, potentially the future of other projects like this could be under threat as a result of the recent announcements by the UK Government, and it will be tragic if these opportunities are lost to future communities,” Ewing said.
Ewing and Sargeant are the latest in an increasingly long line of politicians to add weight to criticism of DECC’s proposals since their disclosure on 22 July. Scottish National Party MP and chair of the energy and climate change select committee Angus MacNeil took aim at the decision to hold consultations over the summer period when the House of Commons is on recess, while Liberal Democrat Tim Farron and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn also lambasted government policy on renewables last week.
A DECC spokesperson said that the department is to explore what it does to support community energy programmes under the wider feed-in tariff review later this year.
“Our priority is to keep bills as low as possible for hardworking families and businesses while reducing our emissions. The amount of renewable energy projects being built means we are on track to meet our ambitions for 2020 and we have to balance that with the need to protect bill payers,” the spokesperson said.
The full text of Fergus Ewing and Carl Sargeant’s letter can be read here.
This article has been amended to include comment from the Department for Energy and Climate Change.