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Ashley Seager: Not another consultation document! It’s action we need on renewables, not vague promises of future measures

Funny how badly this government has been caught with its trousers down by rising oil prices. And, seeing its popularity slump, it has belatedly rushed out a renewable energy consultation document.

While green groups have given it a cautious welcome, it is still ridiculous that it is just that – yet another consultation and one that does not foresee any action before 2010. That means another two years wasted, during which Britain will fall ever further behind our European neighbors in the use of renewable energy.

Alternative energies have always had an enormous potential in Britain, with its huge wind, wave and tidal resources and even not bad sun hours in the year. But labor has always been in thrall to the big utility companies, which complacently told them that renewables were too expensive and that nuclear power was what they needed.

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As a result, we remain about the worst user of solar panels or wind turbines in the EU – just as soaring energy prices make them ever cheaper in relative terms.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks likes to boast that Britain will next year become the world leader in offshore wind power. That’s because everyone else has built all their turbines onshore, which is cheaper and easier. The reality is we have 10% of the installed wind turbines that Germany does or Denmark.

But even if we accept graciously that the consultation document is better than nothing, which it is, we should not forget that the British government is still fighting the adoption of a feed-in tariff for renewable electricity, which has been used so successfully in many European countries, led by Germany, as a market-supporting mechanism to boost renewable use at half the cost of Britain’s own discredited renewables obligation system.

MPs from all parties in the Commons and many in the Lords are trying to table an amendment to the current energy bill to allow a feed-in tariff but are meeting stiff resistance. In truth, the energy bill should be withdrawn and a new one drawn up that would get action going now, so that we have some hope of meeting our EU target of 15% of all our energy from renewables by 2020.

And the grants system for renewable technologies has virtually ceased to function. Is that about to get a big dollop of new cash and be relaunched? Dream on.

As so often with this government, they think talking the talk is enough. On renewables, they have been doing that for a decade. They need to walk the walk – and right now.

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© Guardian News & Media 2008
Published: 6/25/2008

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