Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Perfect FIT?

There have been predictable howls of outrage following the announcement that the UK government is to halve the feed in tariffs for solar panels. It's not just the direct vested interests from the solar industry, it's also those indirect vested interests from environmentalists, climate change campaigners and their supporters in the liberal media. Some have seen this change of policy as the first signs of a deeper change in government. Is the solar FIT a harbinger of change, is the grip of climate change orthodoxy loosening? Unfortunately, I see no sign that this is happening.

Firstly, let's be clear about the scale of this apparent change. The most important point is that it only applies to new installations. In other words those who have already boarded the gravy-train and have installed solar panels are guaranteed the premium rate of feed-in tariff for the next 25 years. In practice, it means that those who could afford to go ahead and install early on, when installation costs were higher than they are now, will continue to benefit at our expense. Who could afford to go ahead and install early on? People with the money to spare - i.e. the rich. Yet again, as with wind energy, the rich are being subsidised by the poor. For those who missed out early on, the FIT is being reduced, not abolished completely. They'll continue to be subsidised by the rest of us, but the level of profit won't be as high.

Secondly, it's also clear that the move to reduce FIT is driven by political expediency and not any fundamental shift in ideology regarding climate change. With fuel poverty on the rise, and all the signs of a hard winter ahead, the government has to be seen to be responding in some way. The really difficult decision would be to stop with the hidden green taxes that inflate our fuel bills. This won't happen. The next option would be to cut the FIT for all of the 'renewables', including wind. Again, this won't happen. What we have instead is a largely symbolic gesture that will make very little difference to rest of us.

It's worth noting that this policy change has occurred just around the same time as the release of the BEST climate change results. Our political classes will have been bombarded with the simple message that global warming is real. They will, without doubt, accept that this is the gospel truth. It will reinforce the dogma. The timing of the BEST message - amplified by the BBC, Guardian, Economist and co - is perfect. It hits the news just before winter sets in, and it's in time for the next climate-fest in Durban.

So, when it comes down to it, I see no reasons to be cheerful. What we have is not a monumental shift in opinion or policy, but a minor piece of political theatre to please the masses.

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