Monday, 14 March 2011

Fat Cats Ate My Sunshine

Yes, you've seen them - the shady characters, gliding up in their electrically powered 4X4's, sharp suits crafted from recycled "Green Worlds" as they size up sites for the latest windmills - the ultimate in Battery Farming - and cashing in greedily on the sickening trade in Solar Futures: who says the Sun will always shine tomorrow? These guys are speculating on a Long Dark Night, I tell you....

This surreal fantasy is actually at the heart of current Government thinking. Just a matter of weeks after effectively abolishing corporation tax on overseas earnings for our poor struggling bankers, the Lib Dem Secretary of State has boldly set his sites on the Government's next target - the far more urgent and dangerous phenomenon of "solar fat cats".

I kid you not - the Government is set to seriously restrict the financial advantages of the "feed-in tariff" for solar energy. Apparently worried about big business cashing in on subsidies to encourage installation of solar energy panels, it has decided to cut back massively in support for non-domestic panels. Perish the thought that any public money might find its way into the hands of profit-seeking energy companies, quite the opposite of the smooth, clean, super-efficient operation of the financially solvent nuclear power industry...

Just as carbon fuel prices soar, edging ever higher with each new crisis in the Arab world, our supposedly greenest Government in history has at a stroke set back hope of a substantial increase in solar energy generation in spite of its increasing efficiency. Support will still be available to small schemes, but as soon as anyone with some serious investment began sniffing around the subsidy pot, the lid was slammed shut.

How bizarre, when the nuclear industry needs tens of billions of taxpayers money just to keep going each year (let alone the massive bill looming for decommissioning the current aging reactor plants). Mr Huhne is by contrast loathe to supply even £40 million p.a. (about 67p per inhabitant of the UK) to foster solar power (mostly recouped from higher charges and not even from the public purse itself).

Of course, it is pretty much a ruse to cut more spending - big business did not show any serious signs of piling into the industry, although there are plans for some interesting medium sized schemes. One scheme, an amusement park company, will likely lose out now and, in these recessionary times, may not proceed with their plans to become carbon-neutral. Jobs are at risk as well and Britain looks set to lose out in the valuable skills development in emergent technologies that the alternative energy industry offers. In the name of short term financial efficiencies, the longer term is being sacrificed.

You have been warned...
Yet at the same time, tens of billions of pounds are set to be handed out in tax cuts to multinational corporations under the new tax reform regulations on Controlled Foreign Companies going through Parliament - a clear case of choices being made rather than necessary cuts in public finance. While no one wants subsidies snatched and gobbled up by a handful of big players, the strategy should be to put money into encouraging an exponential increase in alternative energy rather than tax relief for capitalist pirates. This is a greenwash Government, and this episode shows just how paper thin their commitment to alternative energy is.

As we face the chaos and cost of Peak Oil, there will be a high price to pay for this most ignorant of decisions.

The only song about solar electricity to make the UK charts (at 99!).

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