Subsidies for renewable energy are vital to delivering a low-carbon future. Without them, new technologies can’t compete with the established oil, coal and gas industries. Particularly as fossil fuels still get generous subsidies themselves!
Today, the RSPB submitted its response to a Government consultation on how renewable energy subsidies should be ‘banded’. Essentially this means how much subsidy each different technology – such as wind power, bioenergy and tidal power – should get.
The Government has long resisted our advice that subsidies should reflect the sustainability of the technology in question, and this set of proposals is sadly no different.
The fact is that some technologies are inherently environmentally destructive, whilst others have the potential to be rolled out in the UK without unacceptable impacts.
That’s way we’re calling for subsidies to be maintained and, in some circumstances increased for wind, wave and tidal stream.
But at the same time we’re saying that subsidies must be abolished for two technologies we simply do not think can ever be sustainable.
The first is new biomass electricity plant. In an RSPB report last year we found 31 of these plants waiting to go ahead if they get their subsidy. If they were all built they would lock the UK in to burning almost 50 million tonnes of wood each year, most of which would be imported. This would amount to an environmental disaster and any subsidy for it would be perverse.
The second is shore-to-shore tidal barrages, like the one that has been proposed for the Severn Estuary. These barrages inevitably destroy estuaries, which are extremely important habitats for all sorts of birds and fish, so, again, we do not think that such projects deserve lavish subsidy. There may, however, be novel ways of harnessing the energy in our estuaries without causing such damage, and we believe public support should focus on developing and supporting these alternatives.
Let’s hope that Government listens to this advice, because ultimately it is the public who pay for these subsidies, and we have the right to expect Government to invest them wisely.