Britain seeks loophole in EU green energy targets

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Link to Vadera speech

Britain is seeking to change the rules governing renewable energy targets to make it easier for the UK to fulfil its commitment to promote clean energy, the Guardian has learned.

At present, only 3% of the UK's power comes from renewable energy, but ministers have agreed to increase this fivefold within 12 years. To help reach this goal, the government has started lobbying the EU over the way the target is calculated.

At a closed session of the energy council of ministers this month, the business minister, Lady Vadera, proposed that British investments in renewable energy anywhere in the world should count as part of UK's effort.

In a speech that astonished European renewable energy companies, environment groups and other EU energy ministers, she said: "It is imperative that cost-efficiency is at the heart of our approach ... Demand for renewable energy projects outside the EU should be considered [part of the renewable target]."

She also appealed to Europe to allow all EU countries to count carbon "saved" from coal-fired stations fitted with equipment that captures harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The electricity generated by this "clean coal" would then count as renewable energy and go towards UK national targets. "Member states might be further incentivised to support carbon capture projects if they were allowed in some way to contribute to the 2020 [renewable] targets," she said.

Environmental groups regard both proposals as a way for Britain to put off or scale back on increasing renewable energy through windfarms, hydroelectric and solar energy initiatives.

Last year the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Dberr) attempted to dilute EU renewable targets. Gordon Brown ordered a rethink on how Britain addressed renewables when leaked papers from Dberr were published in the Guardian.

Last night renewable energy companies and environment groups reacted with alarm. "This would kill renewable energy in Britain," said Dale Vince, chief executive of Ecotricity, Britain's biggest windfarm company. "It makes a mockery of any attempts to address climate change. The idea that we can build wind farms or other renewable energy projects [abroad] and then offset them against the UK target is outrageous. If it were possible to build projects anywhere in the world where planning is lax, nothing would be done in the UK."

John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, added: "This would allow a UK minister to lay the foundation stone of a power station in China and say it counts as our contribution to European renewable energy targets."

"Yet again Britain is found trying to evade its environmental responsibilities," said a spokesman for the environment group WWF.

The proposals to the EU have heightened concern among the groups that the UK is on a course for a massive nuclear power programme. The energy secretary, John Hutton, argued this week that Britain should not just replace existing nuclear plants but greatly expand the nuclear and coal industries.

This week's state visit by President Sarkozy confirmed that the powerful French nuclear industry will be encouraged to develop at least four but possibly more nuclear power stations in Britain.

Industry recognises that nuclear power and renewables in Britain are mutually exclusive because they both need government support as well as the same national grid infrastructure to distribute electricity. Last week Carlo de Riva, chief executive of French state-owned nuclear company EDF, said British backing for renewables, would undermine nuclear power.

"If you provide incentives for renewables ... that will displace the incentives built into the carbon market. In effect, carbon gets cheaper. And if carbon gets cheaper, you depress the returns for all the other low-carbon technologies. [like nuclear power]."

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