Scotland business

Scottish Renewables concern over subsidy uncertainty

Wind turbines Image copyright Thinkstock

Scottish Renewables has criticised UK ministers for "uncertainty" over whether wind farms and solar projects will get continued government support.

The industry body said these were the cheapest renewable energy sources, but they were losing out on subsidy.

It was responding to plans to phase out electricity from coal in Britain within 10 years.

Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, said it was right to withdraw subsidy as technologies became established.

Ms Rudd has signalled government support for more gas-fired and nuclear power stations.

She also said there would be backing for offshore wind power, on condition that it continues to reduce costs.

But the minister did not give the detail the industry has sought on the pricing regime for renewable power.

Falling costs

The UK government controls how much subsidy is directed to different technologies, though customer bills.

As costs fall and those technologies get closer to being viable on their own, subsidy is being withdrawn.

In the case of onshore wind power, that is happening sooner than previously planned, and solar subsidy has been sharply cut back.

In her speech, Amber Rudd said: "Subsidy should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model.

"Most importantly, new, clean technologies will only be sustainable at the scale we need if they are cheap enough.

"When costs come down, as they have in onshore wind and solar, so should support. For instance, we have enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our 2020 expectations. That is why we set out in our manifesto that we would end any new public subsidy for onshore wind farms.

"The costs of solar have come down too. Over 8GW of solar is already deployed and even with the costs controls we have proposed we expect to have around 12GW in place by 2020."

Image copyright VioNet
Image caption Amber Rudd said the costs of solar energy had dropped rapidly

However, the industry has been complaining that government policy has left investors in the dark about the returns they can expect, and that is putting a halt on growth that the industry requires to see if it is to hit government energy targets.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, commented: "It appears that the secretary of state is bending over backwards to highlight the benefits of gas-fired and nuclear power, whilst overstating the challenges of increasing our renewable energy capacity.

"It is right that we get coal off the system but there is no mention of gas already being the UK's main source of carbon emissions, the cost of nuclear power being significantly more expensive than onshore wind and solar, nor the challenges of managing large and inflexible nuclear power plants.

"With the promise of future support for gas, nuclear and offshore wind, it is totally unclear if there is any future for investment in onshore wind and solar, despite the fact that these are the cheapest forms of renewable power available."

He said major projects off Scotland's shores had been "left in limbo for another 12 months", while the minister had failed to make any mention of wave and tidal energy, or the challenge of shifting heating to renewable energy sources.

Image copyright Ben Barden
Image caption The East Anglia THREE turbines would be similar to those at the Ormonde wind farm in the Irish Sea

Meanwhile, Scottish Power has announced it is submitting a planning application for a new phase of a very large wind farm off the coast of Suffolk.

East Anglia THREE would have 172 turbines and capacity of 1,200MW, which could power 850,000 homes.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of the Spanish-owned company, said: "The offshore wind industry in the UK now benefits from more powerful and more efficient turbines.

"We have better vessels, more experience of working offshore, a healthier supply chain, a growing engineering skills base, increased capability to export our products and expertise around the globe, as well as ever increasing investment in UK infrastructure.

"All of these factors mean that costs are reducing quickly, and large projects are achievable."

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