An ideological breakthrough on feed-in tariffs in
BritainRead more about:
Guest author (Guest Contributor) at 12:07 PM on 03 Nov
The following is a guest essay by author, advocate, and renewable
energy industry analyst
Paul Gipe. His latest book,
Wind Energy Basics, will be
published by Chelsea Green in early 2009.
In a startling reversal, Britain's Labour government has put on the table
a feed-in tariff proposal for "microgeneration." The proposed
feed-in tariffs will pay homeowners, farmers, and community groups for
the electricity they generate with renewable energy.
The move represents an ideological breakthrough. Long an ardent supporter
Renewable Obligation Certificate
trading systems and plain
old-fashioned subsidies as the sole means of developing renewable energy,
Britain's Labour government has abruptly changed course.
Britain, along with its English-speaking allies in the United States,
Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, has been a staunch proponent of the
"Washington Consensus" of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. In
this world view, the only mechanisms that can be used to develop
renewable energy and hew to ideological purity are quota systems coupled
Tradable Green Certificates
. In Britain this policy is called the
; in North America, it is known as
Renewable Portfolio Standards
However, outside the schools of economics aligned along the
Chicago-London axis, others have argued that feed-in tariffs are a more
effective and less costly market mechanism for rapidly developing
renewable energy. These include prominent British economist
Sir Nicholas Stern
, as well as continental European economists who
are less well-known in North America.
The specific proposal by the new Minister of Climate Change, Ed Miliband,
is less significant than the fact the government felt compelled to act.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown narrowly escaped a backbench revolt in the
House of Commons earlier this year over exclusion of a feed-in tariff in
Britain's long-awaited energy bill. Meanwhile, in the House of Lords,
debate on the inclusion of feed-in tariff provisions continued despite
the government's attempts to quash the subject.
Nevertheless, Miliband's proposal is timid and vague.
For example, the proposal limits individual projects to no more than 3
MW. That's enough for rooftop solar systems, but not big enough for most
community wind projects. It's clear that the government doesn't want a
program of feed-in tariffs to threaten its quota system, despite the fact
that there's widespread acknowledgement that Britain will miss its
renewable energy targets and now pays more for renewables than its
European neighbors that use feed-in tariffs.
The existing Renewable Obligation has mostly benefited commercial wind
development in Britain's highlands. What the British call microgeneration
-- rooftop solar, for example -- has been dependent upon the waxing and
waning of traditional up-front subsidies. As a consequence, Britain lags
well behind Germany, Spain, Italy, and France -- all countries using
feed-in tariffs -- in the development of rooftop solar photovoltaics.
Even in wind energy, Britain is falling increasingly behind continental
nations. By the end of 2008, France, Britain's long-time cross-channel
rival, will operate nearly 1,000 MW more wind-generating capacity than
Britain, despite being a relative newcomer to wind energy development.
French Wind Growth Continuing
.") France uses an innovative
feed-in tariff policy.
British renewable energy campaigners, notably Friends of the Earth, have
called for more specifics in the proposal and for increasing the maximum
project size to at least 10 MW -- equivalent to about five modern wind
turbines. Friends of the Earth is also calling for prices (the feed-in
tariffs) to be differentiated by technology -- solar is paid one price,
wind another, and so on -- a feature found in all countries successfully
developing renewable energy.
Elsewhere, a number of Australian and American states, as well as
Canadian provinces, are considering feed-in tariffs: