The U.K.’s biggest renewables association has warned of a threat to renewable-energy cost reductions amid growing concerns that Britain will leave Europe without a deal.
Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, said that as the U.K. prepares to split from the European Union, “any barrier to the continued flow of goods and components throughout the supply chain could undermine our ability to reduce costs to consumers.”
New “frictionless trade agreements” should be put in place “as soon as possible,” she said.
However, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May still struggling to find a divorce formula that will satisfy Brussels, as well as the Brexiters in her own party, the likelihood of a frictionless trade agreement before Britain leaves Europe on March 29 is looking more and more remote.
Even securing a free flow of goods and components might not be enough to stem the cost reductions that the U.K.’s wind industry is counting on for future competitiveness.
Alongside frictionless trade, RenewableUK has called for five other features of current EU-U.K. cooperation to remain in place after Brexit.
The first of these is for skilled workers from the U.K. and the EU to have freedom of movement to work on wind projects throughout the continent. It is unclear if this would be the case.
May’s cabinet last month confirmed that EU workers would face the same immigration rules as anyone else entering the U.K. after Brexit. Admission would be based on skills, which might mean wind industry workers would be given preference.
However, the need to apply for a visa, instead of simply hopping over the border, might discourage renewable energy technicians who can find plentiful work on the continent.
There are plans for a transition period lasting until Dec. 31, 2020, during which EU workers would preserve their current rights and guarantees. But they are subject to negotiators reaching an overall deal on the divorce, which at present seems uncertain.
Another RenewableUK ask is for the U.K. to remain within the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) after Brexit. This would “maintain the stability and scope of the scheme, in which the U.K. has played a leading role,” Pinchbeck said.
RenewableUK’s concern over the future of the ETS is shared by other energy associations.
Earlier this month, for instance, the European electricity industry union Eurelectric wrote to May and to Europe’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to warn against the dangers of the U.K. leaving the EU without a deal in place.
“The overall balance of the ETS could be severely disrupted by the withdrawal of the U.K., because the U.K. is currently the net supplier of allowances,” said Eurelectric’s letter.
Despite these warnings, the British government this month published a guidance note that admitted: “The U.K. will be excluded from participating in the EU Emissions Trading System in a ‘no deal’ scenario.”
A further item on RenewableUK’s list is that the U.K. should remain true to EU-wide market trading rules governing the exchange of energy over existing and planned interconnectors.
While it seems unlikely such exchanges would halt in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Reuters this month reported that European interconnector operators will have to set up alternative trading arrangements if the U.K. leaves the EU with no exit deal next year.
RenewableUK also believes it is important for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to retain a single energy market and a shared system operator after March 29.
Despite the fact that the Irish border is currently the main sticking point in talks, this might indeed be possible in a no-deal scenario, according to Michael Dodd, market area manager for the U.K. and Ireland at DNV GL, the global quality assurance and risk management company.
“Ireland already operates in a single market which spans two different countries with two different currencies and two different sets of policies,” he said. “Ireland is already set up to operate under this scenario.”
However, RenewableUK’s final Brexit request is seemingly much harder to achieve this close to the disconnection date.
“We need to see EU research and development funding for innovative technologies such as wave and tidal energy protected or replaced, so that we can maintain our global lead and increase our potential to export them,” said Pinchbeck.
The U.K.’s research community evidently believes funding is in grave danger. This month, 29 Nobel prizewinners and six Fields Medal winners signed a letter saying: “Many of us in the science community regret the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union.
“All parties in the negotiations on the U.K.’s departure from the EU must now strive to ensure that as little harm as possible is done to research," they wrote.