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Eco investors demand (even) more sweeteners for low carbon energy

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When Nye Bevan created Britain's National Health Service in 1948 he faced resistance from private consultants – and famously had to "stuff their mouths with gold" to win them over. But at least there was a universal-payer health care system at the end of it. Renewable energy today is a commercial basket case*, and potential investors need yet more more public money if they're to support it, according to a new report.

It isn't phrased quite like that, but the message, in a forthcoming analysis from economics think-tank and consultancy Oxera, is that the government will miss its 2020 renewables target unless discount rates for investors are slashed. The report warns that the government will fail to raise the £70-£75m needed to meets it Renewables Obligation, according to monthly newsletter Investment and Pensions Europe (IPE).

The public pays the cost, the private sector reaps the reward: a fairly direct wealth transfer.

Oxera also warns of a "reputational risk" associated with being associated with expensive renewables, such as offshore wind farms, which raise energy bills for everyone. It's a reminder that the stench from expensive, Gaia-friendly eco energy leads right back to the perpetuators.

It should be noted that the nuclear industry has also joined the calls for lower discount rates, but then it is no stranger to seeking subsidies, and in Europe, diversified energy producers have their eggs in several baskets. Nuclear supporters will argue that pound-for-pound it's cheaper, safer (more people die worldwide putting up windmills) and that at least an operational reactor can keep the lights on.

Energy companies are keen to keep the true costs of Gaia Worship hidden – despite increasing demands to break out the real extent of the subsidies and other schemes on domestic consumers' energy bills. The sweeteners increase bills by 15 to 20 per cent, making it a harsh regressive tax with 5.5 million households already in fuel poverty.

In a sign of changing consensus, the Left-ish think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has warned the "carbon floor price" introduced in this year's Budget will add even more to fuel bills. The regulation prevents conventional fuel generators from passing on low market prices for energy.

But the IPPR's hand-wringing at this late stage – laws have already been passed - may look a bit rich. In 2008, at the peak of the climate change hysteria, the IPPR joined the calls for steeper de-industrialisation targets, and conspicuously brushed the costs under the carpet.

The IPPR made several speculative punts that were typical of rhetoric at the time.

"Decarbonising the UK economy by 80 per cent would cost between one half and one tenth as much as doing nothing, based on Stern's estimate that climate change damage costs would reduce global GDP by between 5 per cent and 20 per cent," claimed the authors of "80% Challenge – Delivering a Low Carbon UK". The report was jointly authored with pressure group the WWF, and friend of the bird the RSPB.

Estimating the cost of action against the cost of future damage poses a problem. Taking a pound of investment out of the economy rebounds on future generations, and can cost thousands in the future. Economists use a discount rate, typically choosing one of around 3 to 5 per cent. For his 2007 report, Stern used one of 0.01 per cent – highly improbable, but the only way he could make "urgent action" appear attractive.

The IPPR authors also mused that if wind energy's "intermittency" problem could be solved, Britain's energy needs could be met from renewables.

Yes. And if my Auntie had balls, she'd be my Uncle. ®

*Bootnote Hydro-electric energy (today) and geothermal sources (soon) are perfectly plausible renewable energy sources, promising to be reliable and cheap. The public backlash against renewables today is directed against wind and solar, which produce energy far above market prices, leaving the public to pay the difference.

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