Can British Renewables Survive Another Tory Government?

22/05/2014 16:29 BST | Updated 22/07/2014 10:59 BST

Britain's renewable energy sector bears every trait you'd expect to see from a thriving, economically-driven international industry. It employs over 100,000 people, has been instrumental in helping domestic construction firms prosper during recession and has allowed families across the country to soften the blow of increasingly unaffordable household energy bills by helping them produce their own electricity.

Yet for all its merits, the true potential of British renewables seems to be thwarted at every turn by outdated policy and reactionary politics. If we're not careful, a perfect storm of populist, anti-green initiatives may run the risk of transforming one of the country's biggest up-and-coming sectors into a permanent PR sham.

When David Cameron rose to power in 2010, he promised to captain the UK's "greenest government ever". As a show of good faith, he immediately conjured up a whole host of new, climate-friendly government departments designed to churn out quick and effective carbon legislation. New government subsidies were introduced, industrial projects were incentivised and domestic renewables were practically shoved down our throats.

But fast-forward four years, and a lot of things have changed. The economy is back up and running, real estate is booming and British industry now faces the daunting task of reasserting its dominance over the globe's various emerging markets. To top it all off, there's also a general election on the horizon - and that's where the future of British renewables starts to get a little hazy.

The warning signs are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Earlier this month, Minister of State for Energy Michael Fallon proclaimed that a Conservative victory in 2015 would mean axing public subsidies for all newly planned on-shore wind farms. Meanwhile, new powers are set to be handed down to municipal authorities that will allow angry locals to block new turbines from sprouting up. And whilst that may sound undeniably anti-green, Mr Fallon begs to differ. Why? Because the UK's current on-shore wind capacity of 13.8GW 'sufficiently meets' the EU's lacklustre 13GW target.

Mr Fallon's logic is fairly straight-forward. After all, by hiding behind internationally-assured green standards, the coalition can have its cake and eat it, too - or rather, minimise renewable investment whilst still appearing to be an eco-friendly government. But wind energy won't be 2015's only casualty.

According to Tory Climate Minister Greg Barker, the party is also keen on slashing solar farm subsidies (again). At present, there are around 200 solar photovoltaic farms in the UK whose owners receive thousands of pounds per year in government credits for contributing eco-friendly energy to the country's national grid. But Barker thinks that's 200 solar farms too many. He reckons the public has grown weary of solar power's 'unrestricted growth' in the British countryside - so much so that solar farms now risk becoming "the new onshore wind". Lucky for us, the Tories are willing to make that problem go away by discouraging any further investment in the industry.

This is starting to get a bit childish.

We've just heard straight from the horse's mouth that a vote for the Conservatives in 2015 is a vote for regressive energy policy. But before the party starts campaigning upon the misguided presumption that renewable energy is just some sort of vote-killing science project, it may be worth taking a second to ponder the true potential of the industry they're about to extinguish. Not only does the nation's renewable energy sector help to address the UK's blatant reliance upon foreign power, but it's also become a lifeline for thousands of British workers. And while there may still be a few kinks to work out, you'd think any politician with a lick of sense would bend over backwards to support something that creates jobs and domestic lowers energy costs.

Unfortunately, there's a very good chance that next year's general election will have absolutely nothing to do with sense.