Thursday, March 22, 2012

Osborne's carbon-fuelled budget sets the scene for a gas-fired future

George Osborne
Would you trust this man to lower carbon emissions?
Budget 2012 will be remembered in the future as the trigger for a new era of gas-fired generation and oil exploration.
  • "A bad day for the environment" (John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace).
  • “I am concerned about the focus that the Budget took on fossil fuels" (Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group).
  • "Despite small green shoots of recovery, investor confidence, instability and uncertainty remain" (Michael Lunn, Environmental Industries Commission’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs).
  • "Sticks two fingers up at David Cameron's promise to build a clean future – and gives a massive thumbs down to new jobs and cutting our reliance on expensive gas and oil" (Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth).
  • "We had hoped for greater clarity around future energy and emissions policies to enable better business and investment planning." (Melanie Leech, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation).
  • "We urgently need a long term, consistent policy framework to provide businesses with the confidence to invest in low carbon and energy efficient improvements" (Martin Baxter, Executive Director of Policy, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, who believes the Budget does not deliver this).
This fair sprinkling of reactions paints the broad brush picture. Read on for the Low Carbon Kid's comprehensive summary of the sector highlights of Mr. Osborne's third budget.

Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC)

The Chancellor announced a review of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC). Mr. Osborne said it is "cumbersome, bureaucratic and imposes unnecessary cost on business", and that if ways of improving it "cannot be found, I will bring forward proposals this autumn to replace the revenues with an alternative environmental tax".

The CRC has few friends. The CBI, the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) and others felt he should have gone the whole way and announced its immediate dissolution. “The Government is wasting time by announcing yet another consultation," said the CBI's Director-General John Cridland.

Gareth Stace, head of environment and climate policy at the EEF, welcomed the news, saying "no amount of tinkering with this doomed tax on British business will ever make it work and therefore the government should scrap the scheme".

But the CRC is not completely isolated. KPMG's lead CRC advisor, Ben Wielgus, cautioned that "the introduction of a tax alone would be unlikely to deliver on all aspects of the CRC: namely the reputational drivers and focus on energy usage that are core to the scheme at present".

"Any reporting requirements would create an administrative burden on business and would need to be carefully designed to ensure that any replacement actually reduces administrative costs compared to the CRC," he added.

Michael Lunn of the Environmental Industries Commission was even more sceptical: "Having previously diverted funds raised from the CRC Scheme from green initiatives into general taxation, the Chancellor has now announced that it must be simplified, or scrapped. This sends a very unhelpful message to those companies working their internal budgets and committing funds to comply with a regulation that may become redundant in just a few months’ time," he said.

"Constant policy changes are detrimental to business and growth in the green economy, and we need to put in place a long-term, predictable and ambitious environmental policy framework right across the UK economy."

Martin Baxter, Executive Director of Policy, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), said he was "disappointed that the government has not taken a longer term approach, as this would provide business with more certainty for investment and effective action on climate change″.

He said he was looking forward to an announcement on mandatory GHG reporting for business, "which will provide benefits for both the UK economy and the environment, by delivering cost and carbon savings”.

The Chancellor said that allowances sold with respect to 2012–13 emissions will be set at £12 per tonne of carbon dioxide, half as much again as the current carbon market price.

Carbon price floor

The Carbon Price Floor is designed to ensure that greenhouse gas emitters pay a price for their emissions, and will be set at £9.55 per tonne of carbon dioxide from 2014–15.

The EEF estimates this will lead to a 6-7% increase in industrial electricity prices and “locks the UK into higher energy taxes than our competitors, regardless of the European carbon price".

Its Gareth Stace said this "contradicts the government’s stance that the UK will go no faster than our partners in Europe.”

Greenpeace slammed it as a "stealth tax" which the Chancellor regards as an opportunity to raise revenue. "To drive investment in the clean technologies that would cut carbon and bring down bills he should instead have said the revenues would be ring-fenced to support ending our addiction to dirty fossil fuels,” said Dr Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace.

The CBI called the new level a “33% rise" that would "hit UK energy-intensive businesses hard, and underlines the need for a more coherent strategy to unlock low-carbon industrial growth".

“In the meantime, we urgently need support to those companies most at risk from the increase,” said John Cridland, which the Chancellor already has announced he is doing with £100 million over the Spending Review period.

Combined Heat and Power

"Combined Heat and Power plants will not be liable to carbon price support rates on fuels used for heat," said the Chancellor, in a move which only partially reinstates the tax break on CHP he removed last year.

This was criticised by Graham Meeks, director of the Combined Heat and Power Association, who said that the break "was what allowed these plants to compete in the power market. He has not restored this, and that's very negative".

The positive effect of not applying carbon price support charges to fuels used for Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is offset by the decision to remove the associated Climate Change Levy (CCL) exemption certificates, he said.

Climate Change Levy

Plants must generate at least 2MW of electricity before they become liable for the carbon price support rates of the Climate Change Levy (CCL).

CCL rates themselves will increase in line with inflation from 1 April 2013.

As announced in 2011's Budget, Climate Change Agreements (CCAs) will be extended to 2023, and as the Chancellor said in his Autumn Statement 2011, the Climate Change Levy discount on electricity for CCA participants available from 1 April 2013 will be increased to 90% to support energy-intensive industries.

The removal of exemption certificates to the Levy will bring in £110m in 2013-14, rising to £165m in 2016-17. This will go some way to paying for the carbon price floor and support for combined heat and power, which is estimated to cost £45m in 2013-14, rising to £145m in 2016-17.

Oil and gas

The Chancellor made significant announcements to support expansion of fossil fuels, especially gas, in a move that, together with Ed Davey's announcement of support for gas-fired generation earlier this week, is more than likely to stimulate a new building programme of gas-fired plants.

“Gas is cheap, has much less carbon than coal and will be the largest single source of our electricity in the coming years,” he said, adding that there will be a new strategy for gas generation published by DECC in the Autumn.

The statement was welcomed by Energy Networks Association (ENA), which represents the transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland.

It claimed credit in a press release for advising him to do so, in what it called "our" Redpoint report, published a year ago, a claim which throws doubt on the impartiality of this key consultation document.

Mr. Osborne announced a programme of support to make it more economical to exploit small oil fields; action to open new fields to the West of Shetland; and promised primary legislation to permit measures to support investment in brown-fields.

The package was decried by environmentalists and welcomed by the industry, with Richard Forrest, partner in the oil & gas practice of global management consultancy A.T. Kearney, saying it "will entice oil and gas players who have investment options in many basins around the world".

Kearney felt that the introduction of a new £3 billion field allowance for particularly deep fields with sizeable reserves targeted at the West of Shetland "will help drive innovation and capability in the UK oil and gas service sector and have the knock-on effect of supporting competitiveness beyond the UK."

But Charlie Kronick, senior energy advisor for Greenpeace, said: “George Osborne hasn’t learned any of the lessons after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Any oil spill in the west of Scotland would wreak untold devastation on some of the UK’s most fragile habitat and the local economy."

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, said this move ridiculed David Cameron's pledge to create the “greenest government ever”. "To drive forward clean technologies we need a government that is willing to invest in low-carbon technologies while displaying strong and inspiring leadership," he said.

To secure billions of pounds of additional investment in the UK Continental Shelf, the Government will introduce a contractual approach to offer long term certainty on decommissioning old rigs.

Kronick said this would mean that "UK taxpayers will continue to pick up the tab for cleaning up the oil companies’ mess," observing that the UK’s tax regime for the oil industry is already among the lowest in the world.

Renewable energy

In a speech notable for few mentions of renewables other than referring to support measures already in the Government's workstream and the updated national infrastructure plan, the Chancellor did affirm that “renewable energy will play a crucial part in Britain’s energy mix – but I will always be alert to the costs we are asking families and businesses to bear.

"Environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable too.”

Gaynor Hartnell, head of the Renewable Energy Association, welcomed the “noticeably more positive tone” than in the Autumn Statement on renewables, but observed that the government’s own advisers had found that ″volatile gas prices, not renewable energy costs, were responsible for recent soaring electricity bills″.

Enhanced capital allowances

Expenditure on solar panels will be designated as special rate expenditure for capital allowances purposes from next month under the Finance Bill 2012.

While plant eligible for Feed-in Tariff support is ineligible for tax-free enhanced capital allowances, other designated energy-saving and water-efficient technologies do qualify, and the ECA list of eligible technologies will be updated during this summer.

The Government is also extending the 100 per cent FYA (first-year allowance) for businesses purchasing low emissions cars until 31 March 2015, a move welcomed by Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group.

"The Climate Group’s EV20 Plugged-In Fleets report which was published in February 2012 highlighted that electric vehicles (EVs) can be commercially viable in business fleets," he said.

Less cash for DECC and Defra

The Department for Energy and Climate Change will see its Programme and Administration budget cut in real terms after 2012-13; currently it is £1.1 billion, which will rise to £1.4 billion for the next two years before falling to just £1 billion in the last year of this Parliament.

Defra's Programme and Administration budget will also fall, from £2 billion now to £1.8 billion by 2016-17, which will be around an 6% cut with inflation taken into account.

DECC's capital budget will almost double, however, from £1.4 billion to £2.7 billion by 2016-17, reflecting the need to support investment in more energy infrastructure, and a trend that has been ongoing for several years.

This support was broadly welcomed, but the ESA's Matthew Farrow said the waste industry "would have liked to see specific ‘green infrastructure allowances’ to incentivise investment in the sector, as the loss of industrial building allowances has made some potential waste management investment less economically viable".

By contrast, Defra's capital budget will fall in real terms, remaining at £0.4 billion.


The Chancellor announced plans and support for more roads, rail investment and even potential enlargement of Gatwick Airport.

Greenpeace said this "flies in the face of the Coalition agreement that specifically ruled it out".

Amongst the announcements on rail was support for Network Rail to invest a further £130 million to improve transport links between cities in the North of England which will enable the number of fast trains to double.

Vehicle excise duty (VED) rates will increase in line with the Retail Price Index from April 2012 but VED rates for heavy goods vehicles will be frozen.

For fleets and company cars there are changes to the capital allowance regime for business cars to strengthen the incentive to purchase more fuel-efficient cars.


Alongside the revolutionary Red Tape Challenge changes to environmental legislation announced by Defra this week, Mr. Osborne said the Government is to set up a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit that will at an early stage look at the impact of nationally significant infrastructure projects on potential Habitats Directive issues.

The appointment of Dieter Helm as Chair of the new UK Natural Capital Committee was announced by the Chancellor. This body provides advice on the state of English Natural Capital to the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee (chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer).

To coincide with this, the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) released a new Rio+20 draft of its original Natural Capital Action Plan which helped shape the creation of the UK Natural Capital Committee last year by the Government, and which will form part of the central agenda of the Rio+20 meetings and World Legislators Summit meeting this June that GLOBE is helping organise with the UN.

Landfill tax

The standard rate of landfill tax will increase by £8 per tonne to £72 per tonne from 1 April 2013. The lower rate of landfill tax will remain frozen at £2.50 per tonne in 2013–14.

The value of the landfill communities fund for 2012–13 will remain unchanged at £78.1 million. As a result, the cap on contributions by landfill operators will be reduced to 5.6%.

Packaging recycling targets

These will increase annually by 3% for aluminium, 5% for plastic and 1% for steel from 2013 to 2017. Glass recycling targets will be split by end use.

Matthew Farrow, the Environmental Services Association’s Director of Policy said this was right. “The higher targets and five year timescale will give confidence to investors in recycling and reprocessing facilities."

He added, "We also support the splitting of glass PRNs by end use, to reflect the environmental benefits of glass recyclate going to remelt".

Aggregates levy

The Government is delaying the planned increase in the aggregates levy rate from £2.00 to £2.10 per tonne until 1 April 2013 to avoid putting additional pressure on the aggregates industry in Northern Ireland.

That's it. The Chancellor barely mentioned or ignored the Contract for Difference Feed-in Tariff, the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Green Deal, Electricity Market Reform policies, UK Green Investments (UKGI), changes to the Renewables Obligation, or the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office.

But perhaps that is just as well.

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