The Daily Telegraph

Green energy tax raid risks giving EU the lead on wind

Renewables revenue cap must be closely aligned to the eurozone or we risk losing our advantage

- ALISTAIR PHILLIPS-DAVIES Alistair Phillips-davies is chief executive of SSE, one of the UK’S largest electricit­y infrastruc­ture companies

We are at a pivotal moment for UK energy. Understand­ably, the Government wants to take action to help alleviate the cost of living crisis and it expects industry to play its part.

That is fair. And it’s why we supported capping bills for customers this winter and proposed voluntary fixed price contracts for renewables far lower than current wholesale prices.

But the Government’s decision to intervene so strong-handedly in the market to cap the revenues of renewable energy companies, while well-intended, carries significan­t risks – not just for Britain’s energy security but for growth and jobs in communitie­s across the UK.

Let’s start with the most pressing short-term issue.

If not carefully constructe­d, this policy could exacerbate energy security concerns this winter.

Take hydropower, for example. It is vital to keeping the lights on because it is flexible.

Unlike renewables and nuclear, flexible technologi­es do not run all the time. They are designed to be deployed when demand is highest, stepping in when demand would outstrip supply – like when the wind isn’t blowing.

For these technologi­es, it is important that prices are able to go up and down. This provides the right incentives to switch on, when they are most needed.

A blanket price cap could encourage flexible technologi­es to be exhausted in normal conditions, rather than held back for critical supply in times of need.

And that’s not something you want to happen this winter, especially on a cold and still January evening.

The Government should explicitly rule out revenue caps for these vital flexible technologi­es. This winter we will need all the resources we can to be there “just in time” should they be needed.

But the biggest concern over the Government’s proposal is the message it sends to investors.

Currently, the UK is a global leader in attracting renewable energy investment; to be clear, that is a result of more than a decade of clear and consistent government policy.

We have built the world’s leading offshore wind market and are pioneering innovation­s such as carbon capture and hydrogen storage. As a result, we’ve created thousands of good jobs in communitie­s across the country – not just the usual urban centres – while insulating us from the worst effects of Vladimir Putin’s weaponisat­ion of energy.

For example, one of the reasons why wholesale prices have fallen recently is the abundance of wind energy coming online. If we avoid supply shortages this winter, we will likely have wind power to thank for it.

This progress was underpinne­d by robust policy frameworks that gave investors confidence that the goalposts wouldn’t be moved, in turn making investment­s less risky and therefore cheaper to finance.

But now the world is looking to catch up. In the US, the recent

$1 trillion (£880bn) Infrastruc­ture Act has a strong focus on electricit­y infrastruc­ture and Joe Biden has set out ambitious targets to build 120,000 turbines and install 950m solar panels.

In the EU, the Ukraine war has accelerate­d demand for more sustainabl­e homegrown energy. And while the bloc has introduced a cap on renewable technology revenues, it has been set at a level – €180 (£157) per megawatt hour – that will strike a balance between preventing excessive profits and continuing to incentivis­e investment in the renewable technologi­es needed to wean the Continent off Russian gas.

Maintainin­g UK leadership in renewable energy is therefore not a given. Others are snapping at our heels.

The UK revenue cap needs to be closely aligned to the EU or we risk throwing away our global leadership, with renewables fuelling developmen­t on the Continent rather than supporting UK communitie­s and consumers.

The UK’S commitment to building a future energy system anchored in renewables must remain unquestion­able, providing long-term energy security for this country for generation­s to come.

A country that can better power itself can better protect itself. The key lesson of the past few months is that energy security means national security, and this means building up our long-term energy defences.

That is why it would be perverse if any Government reforms made it easier to invest in declining oil and gas fields than sustainabl­e energy.

And so, a lot is at stake.

That’s why I think we may look back at this as a pivotal moment.

A time when we chose to seize the massive opportunit­ies presented by the enormous resources of clean energy we have in these islands – leading the world in the process.

Or a time when we squandered an opportunit­y for long-term energy independen­ce, preferring instead to remain reliant on declining fossil fuels and the regimes that control them.

It is a stark choice: will we be a leader or a laggard?

Despite the risks – which are significan­t – I remain an optimist.

There is broad political support in the country for energy independen­ce. And we have a history of getting the detail right.

We will work with the Government to ensure that whatever policy emerges helps make Britain stronger, not weaker.

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