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  • Lawrence Bailey

Getting heated up over green energy

You probably missed it among all the royal wedding coverage, but a group of MPs are questioning whether ministers are serious about green energy. That’s because no-one seems quite sure.

The Environmental Audit Committee is upset that investment has more than halved in recent years, while the Public Accounts Committee reckons Whitehall efforts to reduce emissions are having the opposite effect.

It’s a tough time to be in the green energy sector. There’s been a ban on new onshore wind farms plus a scrapping of subsidies for solar power. Added to that is how renewables are now subject to taxation while the Green Investment Bank has been sold off. Other zero-carbon initiatives have been quietly but firmly dumped.

The bottom line is that annual clean energy spending in the UK is now the lowest it’s been for a decade.

OK, it’s also true that the renewables industry is no longer a fledgling operation. In fact, the proportion of UK electricity generated from low-carbon sources – which includes nuclear – reached the 50% mark last year. What’s worrying however is that poor incentives are already having a slowdown effect on new installations.

There are probably better intentions behind the government’s proposals to replace most fossil fuel heating with wood-fuel boilers. The trouble is, as MPs learned, they’re mostly smoke.

Officials admitted that the new type boilers are too big for the average home and cost far too much. They also concede that in some instances, the emissions even add to local air pollution.

The 2008 Climate Change Act and electricity market reforms saw the UK become a world leader in renewables, particularly wind power. Yet, it’s unclear if it’s the consumers who are supposed get the benefit or the Exchequer.

A department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson described himself as proud that the UK had recently reached the milestone of going 72 hours without burning coal.

I’d be a lot more impressed if the news had been about new investment, particularly the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposals. If there’s going to be a ‘green dividend’ then let it happen around here - and soon.

Greening the city?

I’m less than happy about the removal of so many mature trees from Swansea’s city centre in the name of progress.

I belong to a generation of lower Swansea Valley school kids who planted what is now an urban forest. The lessons we learned about reclaiming the environment from industrial ravages have stayed with me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the Kingsway proposals, but I’d also say that if you can raise pavement levels to accommodate a bendy bus, then you could easily do the same for existing tree roots.

To me, the controversial felling comes across as another instance where future ease of maintenance is more important than preserving the streetscape. The same thing happened with the boulevard scheme.

Photosynthesis is something else I learned about at school. At a time when we’re wringing our hands over city pollution, we’re cutting down dozens of very effective carbon dioxide converters.

Sorry, but that can’t be right.

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