THE government needs to come clean – is it in favour of renewable energy or not?
Few people would invest in a new business without knowing how much money is at stake. Yet that is exactly what farmers are increasingly expected to do when it comes to investing in on-farm renewable energy projects.
Most businesses involve a degree of risk and uncertainty.
The hope is that these can be turned into a profit by a combination of sensible financial budgets, entrepreneurial skill, a good product, customer demand – and a sprinkling of good luck.
Making a success out of these factors becomes much harder when faced with mixed signals from regulators and politicians. And mixed signals are certainly what this government is giving when it comes to technologies such as anaerobic digestion and wind power.
Defra secretary Owen Paterson has only been in the job a couple of months. But already he has called into question government support for on-farm renewables, describing energy crops grown specifically for anaerobic digestion as “not a sensible way forward”.
Mr Paterson has also questioned the wisdom of “onshore” wind farms, suggesting that offshore turbines are a better bet in the drive to generate energy from wind power. Often seen as an eyesore, renewable energy should mean the right measures in the right place, he believes.
Mr Hayes has been subsequently slapped down by his Lib Dem boss Ed Davey, with a source close the Mr Davey telling journalists that Mr Hayes had “totally over-egged things”.
Understandably, supporters of renewable energy have called for clarity. Is the government supportive of renewable energy or not? Farmers too need answers – especially those prepared to invest in on-farm renewables.
Any suggestion that the government is about to change the rules is unhelpful.
Just weeks ago, the government went some way to reassuring potential investors by deciding that support should continue under its Renewables Obligation for smaller solar, anaerobic digestors and onshore wind installations.
But doubts have resurfaced following the latest comments by Mr Hayes.
The countryside can play a big role in energy generation. But for farmers to invest with confidence, ministers need to make a clear statement about the government’s long term attitude towards renewable energy.