Green growth?

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Dave Toke questions whether lack of growth is harming the green cause?

There is a longstanding debate in and around the green movement about whether economic growth, or some “development” variant of that, is compatible with ecological sustainability. But ironically, it may be that the lack of economic growth in recent times is actually harming the green political cause.

Take for example the farmers protest around Europe. In the EU, farmers pressure contributed to the curbs on the enactment of the “European green deal”. Legislation to curb pesticides has been dropped and the EU’s restoration law to save threatened habitats has been put on ice. In the UK, with no EU to complain about the farmers have instead turned their fire on the results of post Brexit trade agreements. Behind all of this is a considerable drop in farmers’ incomes in the 2022-2023 period – up to 20 per cent  – and some farmers have tended to attack new green policies as a result. Is a collapse in economic growth – for farmers in particular – resulting in the derailment of green policies?

In the UK growth in sales of electric cars has stalled. But then the UK has dipped into recession in 2023. It follows that if people are short of money and want to buy a new motor then they are going to place more emphasis on buying the cheaper model – which is still usually petrol or diesel. That is as opposed to buying a lower pollution, and arguably nicer to drive, electric vehicle (EV). But then the prices of EVs are falling and new types of EVs have longer ranges (which also helps). So, as the economic outlook improves in the UK I am going to predict that sales of EVs will lurch upwards!

So, does this prove that the planet can be saved alongside economic development? It does not prove it, of course, but anybody promoting a “degrowth” strategy certainly has more talking to do to demonstrate their case. Of course, in contrast to motor vehicles of whatever type walking and cycling is cheaper and healthier in several ways – although it seems for now at least we have to offer the convinced car people to move onto something else less damaging.

Zonal pricing – killing the renewables goose?

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to most people outside the community of electricity nerds a furious battle is hotting up between the renewable energy trade associations and the Government about the Government’s plan to introduce “zones” into electricity pricing (the renewable bodies don’t like the idea). What zonal pricing means is that instead of having one national system to determine wholesale prices for electricity there will be several zones around the UK which will all have their own prices.

The problem that this is supposed to solve is that a lot of money is being paid to windfarm operators to stop producing sometimes. This is when there is not enough grid capacity to carry the electricity to where it is being demanded. Zonal pricing will curb these grid congestion costs because each zone will have prices that reflect the balance between supply and demand in that zone. Some places, generally in the South, will have higher prices and solar and windfarms will be discouraged from siting in zones where electricity prices are low.

This is meant to encourage renewable energy and other energy generators to set up in places closer to where the demand is now and where the zonal prices (to be paid by generators and also consumers) will be higher.

The problem which is not being talked about very much is that the reason wind and solar farms set up where they are is because the resources are best in those areas. Logic suggests that renewable energy will not do so well if they are forced to set up in areas where the potential resources are not as good.

This promises even more planning arguments than we have already about renewable siting. That is because schemes will be discouraged in some areas where there is a better chance of gaining planning consent and concentrated in others where planning conditions are often difficult. This is bad in planning terms. Surely this will result in a higher rate of planning refusals for renewable projects and more political pressure for planning restrictions on wind and solar farms in general?

Anyhow, zonal pricing has the support of the dominant neo-liberal logic which holds that a good dose of trading and markets will solve ever-so-many problems. The trouble is that such plans assume that other social objectives will not be impeded in the process. They seem to often ignore the necessary institutions that are damaged. Renewable energy development is likely to be curbed because of these policies.

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