British Conservatives Begin Discussion of Feed Law

By Paul Gipe


For North American’s it’s seems unthinkable. Maybe it’s a sign of the seriousness of the energy situation confronting the world. Or maybe it’s just old-fashioned politics at work. The people outside want in. For whatever the reason, the news out of Britain may hold promise for advocates of Renewable Tariffs in North America.

The news? Renewable energy is a conservative issue and conservatives will use renewables to win power away from the ruling New Labour Party led, for the moment at any rate, by Tony Blair.

Influential members of Britain’s Conservative Party have called for the introduction of an Electricity Feed Law like that in Germany. Yes, the Tories, the political heirs to Maggie Thatcher, have called for fixed-price tariffs to spur rapid renewable energy development. Current policy is not doing enough, they say.

The assault on the Blair government’s renewable energy policy began with a broadside from the Carbon Trust this summer. The Trust has issued a stinging report on the country’s Renewable Obligation and the likely failure of the RO to reach the UK’s renewable target. And in a dramatic departure from past British policy the Trust recommended that the country switch to a form of renewable tariffs similar to those used on the continent.

Why this is significant is because Britain’s Renewable Obligation, also known variously as a quota model or Renewable Portfolio Standard, is singled out by its North American advocates as one of the best examples of a successful quota model worldwide. While Britain did not originate the idea of portfolio standards, it has been one of the main proponents of such systems in Europe, so much so that its support had sown dissension in the European Union.

Britain’s political support for–some say it’s insistence on–Renewable Portfolio Standards stoked a bitter feud between wind energy advocates in Britain and those on the continent, pitting the British Wind Energy Association against the German Wind Turbine Owner’s Association (Bundesverband WindEnergie). The spat eventually led to a split in the world’s wind energy community. On one side is the Global Wind Energy Council (effectively the European Wind Energy Association in league with the American Wind Energy Association) and the World Wind Energy Association.

The fight now seems moot. There is now a consensus in Europe that feed laws, or Renewable Tariffs, deliver more renewables more quickly at less cost than portfolio standards.

This summer Britain’s Conservative party issued it’s energy review. Among it’s surprising findings was the need for “improving the regulatory structure for renewable and decentralised energy . . . to spark a revolution in green energy.”

The review goes on to say “We believe that all unreasonable impediments to investment in renewable and decentralised energy should be removed. This should include improvements to planning laws, the consideration of ‘feed-in tariffs’ enabling smaller generators to sell their spare capacity to the grid, and a review of the remit of OFGEM to ensure that all renewable and decentralised technologies are given a fair chance.”

Greg Barker, the Tories shadow Environment Secretary, has been the most outspoken in support of feed laws. Because of his role in David Cameron’s shadow government, it’s unlikely that he’s speaking without authorization. His position on climate change has led to glowing compliments from those not normally aligned with the Conservative Party.

Barker quotes Leonie Greene, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace, on his web site as stating in The Sunday Times, April 23rd, 2006 that “The last few months have been amazing, Greg Barker . . . is turning out to be outstanding.”

Not to be outdone, Labour backbenchers are also raising the question of converting the Renewable Obligation to a feed law. New Labour’s Alan Whitehead is at the forefront of this effort.

While the discussion of a British feed law is in its very early stages, the fact that it’s taking place at all is significant and should hearten renewable advocates elsewhere.