Social enterprise, renewables & the feed-in tariff — great market opportunity or a waste of public money?

Recently a group of us were talking about major market opportunities for social enterprise. One of the group was incredibly enthusiastic about the government’s new ‘feed-in tariff‘ scheme. This pays householders, businesses and community groups to micro-generate power from renewable sources and sell it back — at a profit — to the National Grid. Friends of the Earth have been very vocal in welcoming the scheme, one of the provisions in the Energy Bill.

What we were talking about specifically was the opportunity which this creates for social enterprises to enter the market not just for the installation of solar panels and so forth, but also for their manufacture.

And then on Tuesday 2nd March I read George Monbiot’s piece in the Guardian, “Are we really going to let ourselves be duped into this solar panel rip-off?”

Monbiot absolutely hammers the feed-in tariff scheme. According to him it will be environmentally ineffective and a waste of public money. It does nothing, Monbiot claims, except accord with the aspirations of the middle classes — the solar panel the next must-have status symbol, ideal in that it signifies both “wealth and moral superiority”.

I do love a good polemic, but my God, these environmentalists are even more vituperative in their arguments than us social enterprise folks. I would really appreciate it if some our environmentally aware readers could explain the pros and cons of this idea in easy to follow terms. Good or bad? Effective or a con? A great opportunity for social enterprise or a scandalous waste of public money? Over to you.

  1. Phil Beardmore Reply

    George Monbiot is correct to identify that any market-based low-carbon approach runs the risk of opening up a new fuel poverty gap. What’s important about the Green New Deal model being developed in Birmingham is that rather than merely allowing individual affluent householders the benefit from feed-in tariff income, the GND re-uses this income for social purposes – to close the fuel poverty gap in areas like Lozells, and to create jobs.

    George is also correct to point out that in order to meet the necessary emissions targets, in addition to micro-generation, we need massive investment in energy efficiency, large-scale wind, appropriately sited wave and tidal (but not nuclear).

    There have been a couple of letters published in the Guardian that are critical of George’s position –

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/03/feed-in-tariffs-energy-innovation

    Phil Beardmore
    Climate Change Development Manager
    Groundwork West Midlands

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