David Bell: Renewables market needs political support to ease up funds

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OVER the past six months, the renewables policy agenda has been beset by in-fighting within the coalition government, a struggle that manifested itself publicly in the Corby by-election and in comments made by John Hayes MP, the new Energy Minister.

The lack of certainty at Westminster has fuelled uncertainty within the renewables investment market, which has already witnessed a reduction of investment levels, largely as a result of the drawn-out ambiguity over electricity market reform and the new fiscal support mechanism for renewables. This, combined with general funding constraints, has made investors think twice before committing.

However, with the recent publication of the Scottish Renewables Routemap update, the Scottish Government has maintained its unwavering support for renewables deployment, setting a new target for 50 per cent of electricity demand to come from renewables by 2015. Onshore wind remains an important part of the future energy mix, to be located in the right places, and government has emphasised the important role for local authorities to put into place spatial frameworks to guide onshore wind development.

But these must be in accordance with national planning policy. It will not be acceptable for authorities to take a stance that they have “done their bit”.

The path to renewable commitments in Westminster has not been so smooth. After years of delays and mixed messages to investors, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has finally published the Annual Energy Statement and Energy Bill. The Energy Bill sets out proposed electricity market reform aimed at bringing in massive private sector investment, some £110 billion over the next ten years. The UK government has stated it will pursue a “portfolio” approach, leading to a diverse energy mix to attain its target of 30 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020. If it fails to make good progress towards that target, then progress to the 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation ambitions will be that much more difficult, and investors may start wavering once more.

• David Bell is director of planning & renewables at Jones Lang LaSalle.