Just before Paris climate summit, Britain slashes wind, solar subsidies

On November 30th President Obama will join hordes of our ecological betters from around the world at the Paris Climate Summit. Weighty topics of how to save the planet will be discussed and agreements are expected which will further push the cause of eliminating carbon, fossil fuels and everything else we rely on to keep civilization chugging along. One of the leaders in the field of green energy and allegedly reduced carbon emissions has been Great Britain, which makes it all the more odd that just before the big confab kicks off, they’ve slashed all of their wind and solar subsidies to the bone, preferring to focus on converting old power plants to natural gas. (Washington Post)

With breathtaking abruptness, the British government has in recent months slashed its support for solar power and other renewable forms of energy, leaving a once-promising industry with grim prospects and throwing into doubt the country’s commitment to clean power.

The moves have baffled environmentalists, business leaders and even many government allies. Britain has long been in the vanguard of efforts to combat global warming. It has been expected to play a leading role — alongside the Obama administration — in efforts to secure a package of tough reforms at the U.N. climate change summit in Paris, which kicks off at the end of this month.

But the decision to cut hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of support for renewable energy at home, with a planned 87 percent reduction in subsidies for solar power, threatens to undermine Britain’s international authority, while showing just how difficult it can be for a developed nation to break a centuries-long addiction to fossil fuels.

The mournful dirge being sung by the Washington Post reporter sounds like a funeral for your daughter’s first goldfish, but the reality on the ground in Great Britain is quite different than how it’s being portrayed here. The Brits are not outlawing wind, solar or any other form of renewable energy. They’ve just reached the end of their tolerance for the endless promises of how wind and solar in particular were eventually going to become self-sufficient and economical. Up to this point they’ve been dealing with the same situation we have here in the United States. All large scale renewable projects of that type have been heavily subsidized by mandates from the federal government and the liberal application of taxpayer dollars. Without that aid it’s simply not economical and it still doesn’t produce enough energy to come anywhere near supplanting our existing energy sources.

If the wind and solar plants want to make a go of it across the pond we wish them the best, but they’re going to have to figure out how to do it at a reasonable cost. The government is essentially telling them that the time has come to fly from the nest on their own. By the same token, the Brits know that new advancements in energy technology have made natural gas an incredibly cheap option which will last them well through the lifespan of most current plants and they can revisit what sorts of options are available at that time. It’s basic economics.

Meanwhile they’re still dealing with the fallout of stories like this which indicate that the wind farms they’ve built actually have a worse carbon profile than anyone imagined. (The Telegraph)

Wind farms are typically built on upland sites, where peat soil is common. In Scotland alone, two thirds of all planned onshore wind development is on peatland. England and Wales also have large numbers of current or proposed peatland wind farms.

But peat is also a massive store of carbon, described as Europe’s equivalent of the tropical rainforest. Peat bogs contain and absorb carbon in the same way as trees and plants — but in much higher quantities.

British peatland stores at least 3.2 billion tons of carbon, making it by far the country’s most important carbon sink and among the most important in the world.

Wind farms, and the miles of new roads and tracks needed to service them, damage or destroy the peat and cause significant loss of carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.

Meh… you win some, you lose some. It’s always so complicated when you go around trying to balance out carbon projections and tinkering with the environment, isn’t it?