It has been an unremittingly bleak week for the green economy, but could there be some light at the end of the tunnel?
Where does the decision to strangle the Green Deal sit in the dramatically competitive race to claim the title of the government's most self-defeating, short-sighted, and environmentally damaging green policy move? Could it yet come through on the rails to take the title or will it get lost in the crowded field alongside the shock clean energy tax hikes and scrapped green building standards? Assessing the runners and riders at the end of a week that was about as bleak and unrelenting as a Leonard Cohen sings Radiohead album, it is clear we are in for a photo finish.
Trailing at the back of the field is the reasserted commitment to push for an ambitious deal in Paris and today's news the government is backing the inelegantly named 'Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform' group (I bet they throw the best dinner parties). As the one policy in the running for the alternative title of most promising green policy move, it doesn't have a hope in this particular race.
Also lagging behind the rest of the field are the various reviews; the pledges to take the microscope to the feed-in tariff, energy efficiency policy framework, overlapping carbon pricing schemes, and the Renewable Heat Incentive. Each of the reviews may create a modicum more uncertainty for investors, but the policies they are targeting have undoubted flaws and any new government should dispassionately assess where improvements could be made.
Next up, things get crowded as the bulk of the field jostle for position, each in with a chance of taking the title and with many of the runners boosted by the element of surprise provided by their democracy-trolling absence from the Conservative election manifesto.
There at the back of the crowd is the Green Investment Bank privatisation, held back by the fact the bank will remain a viable and effective investor, but still in the running thanks to the huge lost opportunity evident in the government's decision to stop the bank borrowing at ultra-low rates.
Then there's the Chancellor's decision to slap a Climate Change Levy on renewable energy, a move memorably described by Friends of the Earth like sticking an alcohol tax on apple juice. You can't really call a tax hike retroactive, but the blow for clean energy investor confidence is much the same as a retroactive policy move.
At the shoulder of the renewable energy tax hike is the change to Vehicles Excise Duty that seems purposefully designed to make low carbon cars less attractive, at a time when the government insists it is committed to their roll out.
Then comes the wave of moves to restrict clean energy subsidies (I told you it was a crowded field). They may struggle to take the title on the grounds there is a case for curbing renewable energy subsidy costs. But then again the case is neither as compelling, nor as clear cut, as the government suggests given energy bills are currently falling and projections suggest the UK is still on track to remain within the 'headroom' for its LCF clean energy budget.
The moves to halt Renewables Obligation subsidies for wind and solar definitely have a shot at the title, given how both technologies can now generate power at a lower cost than alternative power sources that remain in favour.
The end to biomass grandfathering is also in with a shout, given the extent messing with grandfather rights makes infrastructure investors nervous. And the stopping of pre-accreditation for the feed-in tariff scheme could make a bid for the title, thanks to its sheer sneakiness and its clear contradiction of the government's previous stated desire to encourage commercial rooftop solar arrays.
Running in alongside all these measures is the staggeringly short-sighted and damaging decision to delay the next wave of contract for difference auctions. A mechanism that has been shown to deliver significant clean energy cost reductions has been dealt a serious blow, and all to save a relatively modest sum of money that we cannot yet be sure we even need to save.
However, currently leading the field has to be the decision to axe Zero Carbon Building standards. A policy 10 years in the making with widespread support and an unanswerable economic rationale, killed without warning to appease a handful of housebuilders on the largely spurious grounds it will lead to fractionally lower prices for new homes.
Where does the shock move to stop issuing new Green Deal plans join the race? Pretty near the front, I'd argue. The Green Deal was far from perfect, but this move will slow down the rate of energy efficiency improvements still further, even though they represent the most cost effective means of cutting emissions. It has come with no warning and will result in significant numbers of businesses that had invested in good faith seriously out of pocket.
It is also worth nothing the axing of the Green Deal was aided by one of the other runners in the race, the GIB privatisation. It was GIB's decision last year not to back the Green Deal Finance Company, a decision informed by pressure to lend on commercial terms and its continued inability to borrow, that left the scheme reliant on the government.
The key question now is whether the race is nearly run? Has the government completed its month-long assault on green policies or is there more bad news to come?
There is no way of knowing, but there are signs in Amber Rudd's climate change speech this morning that she genuinely wants to build a new, more cost effective, decarbonisation strategy that is tightly focused on pro-market and pro-business policies - a strategy that will allow the UK to meet its carbon targets and retain its position as a leading clean tech hub. My understanding is there remains a genuine desire within DECC and the wider government to deliver just such a strategy and a more coherent vision should start to emerge from the autumn.
The problem is that for narrow and short term political reasons Rudd will have to build this new strategy from the smouldering wreckage the government has created in the past month - wreckage that has badly dented investor confidence, forced up the cost of capital, slowed the pace of clean tech investment and UK emissions reductions, and reinvigorated the climate sceptic wing of the Conservative Party.
The desire to appease the austerian automatons in the Treasury who insist there is no more money left (or rather no more money left for things they don't like) and the desire to take advantage of an AWOL opposition obviously prompted DECC to get all the pain out of the way in one go and opt for a scorched earth policy.
It might have made sense politically, but the damage wreaked to businesses that had until a few weeks ago been doing Ministers' bidding and striving to make these policies work is pretty incalculable. You could argue they should have been wary of policy-based investments, and it is a valid truism that policies always come with risk attached, but these businesses were working to deliver on a strategic decarbonisation goal all parties had signed up for. There was nothing in the Conservative manifesto to suggest quite such an aggressive attack on policies that, while imperfect, were largely working. The green business community, indeed the UK business community as a whole, deserved better.
It did not have to be this way. There was obviously a middle path available between the continuation of green policies that if left unreformed would have become too costly and the tearing down of a policy framework that retained plenty of strengths.
For example, tighter planning regulations could have dealt with the 'problem', perceived or otherwise, of excessive wind farm development without Ministers tying themselves in knots preaching cost-effectiveness while scrapping subsidies for the most cost effective source of clean energy. A fast-track review of the feed-in tariff could have been used to curb subsidies without the need for damaging changes to the scheme that will undermine business interest in onsite renewables. A remarkably modest loan from a government-owned GIB could have kept the Green Deal ticking over while the review of energy efficiency policies was completed - a review that will almost certainly conclude pay-as-you-save schemes and tighter building standards represent the most cost effective best way of tackling emissions and fuel poverty. The sale of a 49 per cent stake in the GIB, could have raised the capital the bank needed for the next few years while ensuring the government retained the all important controlling stake.
Most of all, Ministers could have presented all of this as a responsible and cost-effective reform agenda that would cut clean energy subsidies over time and prioritise action on energy efficiency. They could have said, 'yes, there are concerns we may stretch the clean energy budget, but energy bills are falling, the total impact on bills of building a cleaner energy system is modest, and our reforms will bring costs under control in a timely manner'. They could have said, 'we are repairing the roof while the sun is shining and driving much needed investment in modern energy infrastructure'. They could have said, 'the next round of contract auctions will prove our approach is working, pushing clean energy projects ever closer to the point where subsidies are withdrawn'. If they wanted to look really tough, they could even have said, 'yes, some developers have secured excessive returns, but we are clawing those back through the tax system and will use the revenue to fund R&D in ever more cost effective sources of clean energy'.
Instead, for the want of relatively modest sums of money that would pay back many times over in the long term, the bathwater has been lost and babies are everywhere. Jobs will be lost, investment momentum will be squandered, and as the government itself admits emissions will be higher and new homes will cost more to run. Businesses will be left waiting for months, perhaps years, for the new policy framework to take shape. Many will be loath to trust in government investment signals in the future. Meanwhile, our key international competitors will continue to accelerate investment in the modern clean technologies that will deliver healthier and more sustainable economies. And all thanks to a blitzkrieg approach that may help the Chancellor appeal to the backbenchers he wants to carry him into Number 10, but does little but harm to the UK's investment climate.
The only hope now for the UK's green economy is that the race for the title of worst green policy move has now been run (for me, the twin attack on energy efficiency policies takes joint first place by a nose) and the focus will now seriously turn to building something ambitious and credible out of the wreckage. The tragedy is that rather than transitioning towards a Conservative climate policy in a way that retained a degree of investor confidence, narrow political tactics and short-sighted Treasury orthodoxy means the new government's supposedly cost-effective decarbonisation strategy has got off to the shakiest of starts.
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