Transition Culture

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18 Apr 2016

Juliet Davenport of Good Energy on the UK’s EU Referendum

As part of our theme of ‘International’, we have been looking at the UK’s forthcoming EU in/out referendum from different perspectives.  We thought it might be interesting to get a view on it from Juliet Davenport of Good Energy.  How might a Brexit vote affect the push for a renewable energy system in this country?

What are your thoughts in terms of which of the two options that would be available best support our collective work in moving towards a low carbon economy?

“I look at it from three points of view.  From a Good Energy business point of view, if I just start from there because that gives you some context, I think there are pros and cons.  As a business there might be some lower regulatory burdens but if you want to trade with Europe you’ll probably still have to comply with European trading laws.  So on a business side it’s kind of a bit of balance we’ll cope with if it happens. 

But if you look at it from an energy user point of view, one of the things we think from a consumer point of view is that being outside Europe tends to mean that we think we’ll see Sterling fall as a result.  And the UK now imports about 60% of its energy.  So UK energy users could well see energy prices go up as a result of that.  The other thing is that politically within Europe nobody is going to really want to see us on the outside doing well from a trading point of view.  So any on-going trade agreements with Europe will negotiated in a way that is not going to make the UK look good.  I can’t see the French and Germans going, “Yippee!  Yes, you’ve left and now we’re going to give you really beneficial trade agreements.”  I think there will be tariffs on the UK for being outside Europe. So from a consumer point of view we think energy prices are going to go up.

And then finally from an environmental point of view, most of the legislation we’ve seen come through in the UK on the environment has been driven out of Europe.  From clean beaches – I’m sure you can remember the beaches that we used to have as kids – and a lot of the European legislation that drove changes on beach cleaning up, through to the fact that right now the British government is being challenged on air quality in London not being good enough under European legislation in terms of nitrogen oxide emissions.  A lot of our environmental framework legislation, like the Climate Change Act or the Renewable Energy Commitment have come out of European wide directives.

Essentially, the protection of the environment has really being driven consistently out of Europe, across the European piece.  It will be a massive detriment to the environment if we move out of Europe because I can’t see legislation taking that long-term forward view that we’ve seen Europe take on the environment.

A lot of that is based on the current government that we have, who are, one might say, not as supportive of renewable energy and decarbonisation as they might be.  In the event that we had a government who were, do you think they’d be more able to move more quickly, independently of Europe?

One of the issues is that if you look at a lot of the environmental pollution issues, they are generally by their nature cross border.  We do better to try and address them on a collaborative basis rather than an individual basis.  So if you’ve got a particular sea or ocean type pollution issue, the fact that it might start on one shore and end up on somebody else’s shore, tends to mean that you need cross border legislation on environmental protection.

It gets very complicated, so that it may well end up that it becomes very difficult to negotiate those kinds of agreements cross border.  And even with the best will in the world, actually governments find it almost impossible to sort of replace the sort of protections you could have at the European level on an individual national level with agreements between nations.

The Intergenerational Foundation just published a report by Andrew Simms called ‘Toxic Time Capsule’, looking at nuclear power, about Hinkley C, saying that money could be spent so much better on renewable energy.  I don’t know if you’ve seen that?  If you had any thoughts on that?

I haven’t seen it.  But if you gave the renewables industry a long-term CSE that the nuclear power industry has and agreed to underwrite all our potential losses, then we could easily deliver the baseload and flexible power that the UK needs.  I really don’t think there’s an issue.  So yes, at that price, you can deliver everything you need with renewables no problem at all.

Hinkley C: if built, is set to become the most expensive object on Earth.

And being within the EU, do you think makes it more likely that we might be able to over-turn that?  Rather than if we leave?

It’s an interesting question.  I know that it’s been challenged under state rules in terms of the competition rules at that level.  The majority of the pushback has really come from Europe on that, not from the UK.  So is there a chance?  Europe gives you another level of ability to challenge the decisions made by the UK government, so it does give individuals and groups of individuals an ability to go to another level to keep our government honest.  There is an opportunity there.  There’s more opportunities with the European framework in place than there probably currently is with the current political framework we’ve got in the UK.