Specific governmental policies surrounding renewable energy are not often discussed within the youth climate movement. More often than not, the conversation revolves around fracking and wildlife destruction, the more tangible and easily identified evils pushed forward by the government. However, a lack of volition to understand the intricacies of the policies in place can quickly lead to an inability to fight for or against them when the time comes. With the shocking warnings coming from the IPCC yesterday about how endangered our future really is, we really do have to dive into the details to understand the barriers to mobilising very obvious solutions.
With this understood, I shall begin with a quick and simple explanation of the export tariff which runs alongside the ‘Feed-In Tariff’. The export tariff guarantees that all householders, small businesses and community buildings will be paid fairly (currently 5.2p per kWh) for the energy their solar panels put into the grid, which is approximated at half of potential output. Without such a monetary guarantee it is more difficult to convince everyday people and organisations to invest in solar, as it will take them longer to recoup the money spent on the initial installation. It’s also fundamentally unfair & against market principles. The loss of this tariff would mean that these organisations and households would be giving their energy to the grid for free, effectively taking from the smallest power producers to support and subsidise the largest commercial producers.
Export tariffs are a clear microcosm of this issue within our movement. The British Government said it would shut the Feed-In Tariff scheme in 2019, back in 2016. This summer it has also proposed the closure of the export tariff too for new schemes from the 31st of March next year, but few in the movement are following this potential travesty.
Since this proposal, over 200 multifarious companies and organisations, including the UKYCC, signed the Solar Trade Association’s open letter to Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry, but it’s important that the youth are equally engaged in the struggle for fair market treatment. Fair market payments may seem technical and difficult to rally around but it is increasingly important, in this deeply political period, that we all understand the small ways in which those in power can chip away at the successes of the climate movement. This has become especially important with the increased understanding of profound conflicts of interest with so many powerful lobby groups exerting their vast influence on those at the very top.
These lobby groups seek to frame the Export Tariff as a ‘subsidy’, a linguistic technique which causes many to view the system as a way of the government ‘propping up’ the renewable energy market which would fail without constant interference. And indeed Europe disagrees. New EU laws under the recast Renewable Energy Directive require Governments to ensure people who generate their own power are rewarded at a fair market rate. The UK Government appears to be ignoring these laws.
The solar industry is mostly resigned to losing the FIT, albeit earlier than is ideal. Nevertheless, the economic language surrounding the export tariff ignores the reality that it constitutes a market mechanism, simply a way of assuring fair payment for all households and businesses which are producing energy for the National Grid.
Given such vehement opposition to fracking across the country from the youth movement, as well as recent success in Leith Hill after years of campaigning, it is important that we are just as strongly presenting our alternative to the dangerous gas. If we push for policies which benefit renewable energies as strongly as we resist the advent of climate negative methods, we can make the UK a better place especially for the early adopters who are putting the most at risk to make our country cleaner and safer.
For those in the youth climate movement who prioritise the free market in their efforts to save the environment from harm, remember that the removal of these tariffs goes directly against the principles of said free market. If you disagree with government interference in the form of subsidies, you must also oppose subsidisation by not reimbursing community stakeholders for the energy they are producing. This is not just a fight for an obscure government policy, of which many might not notice the end, this is a fight for a fair but fundamentally free market.
This is also a fight for a more intersectional youth climate movement in the UK. The argument for the installation of solar panels on community buildings (such as schools, hospitals and youth centres) often centres on the monetary savings of the installations. This can help make them far more appealing to under-funded community buildings. The knock-on benefit of this appeal to underprivileged communities, is the clear opportunity to directly educate a diverse cross-section of the UK youth on the advantages of solar panels, perhaps even sparking a variety of UK youth into joining the climate movement and to push for similar installations later in life. Losing the financial appeal for disadvantaged communities can only further reinforce the perception that poorer communities cannot afford to think about the environment, and limiting the UK climate movement to privileged voices who have grown up with a deeper understanding of renewable energy.
So what can we do to battle for these extensive benefits? We can share our knowledge of the intricacies of export tariffs with those who might be affected. We can listen carefully to the community stakeholders who will be directly affected from across the UK and we can support the Solar Trade Association’s #Fair4Solar campaign on social media & by contacting our MPs to show the government that this tariff will not go gently into that good night – the UK youth are fighting for it every step of the way.