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Public supports ambitious scheme for micro-scale renewable energy: poll

The public overwhelmingly support a much more ambitious scheme to push renewable energy for homes and communities, a new poll shows today ahead of a key government announcement next week.

Government officials are putting the finishing touches to plans to boost the take-up of renewable energy in Britain – which is the lowest in Europe – through a system known as the “clean energy cashback”, or feed-in tariff.

In July last year the government unveiled the scheme which has been used successfully for years in other European countries and pays above-market rates for green electricity produced by consumers.

But the proposed tariff levels for power produced by small wind turbines, solar panels and micro hydro schemes were criticised by green campaigners as not being high enough to encourage businesses, households and communities to invest.

A YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people carried out for Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and the Cooperative Group shows two-thirds of people think that the government’s plans are not ambitious enough, while 71% of homeowners said they would consider installing green energy systems if they were paid enough cash. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is expected to announce the tariff levels next week.

Shadow climate change minister Greg Barker said: “This poll confirms what we have been saying for some time, that Labour massively underestimate the appetite for decentralised energy among the public.

“Labour is failing to grasp the ambition that is out there in respect of this exciting technology.”

Alan Simpson MP, the government’s special adviser on renewable energy, was critical of the current plans: “If Britain wants to be part of a renewable energy future, we have to go into it at a run rather than a waddle.

“As things stand, the government could turn a brilliant idea into a pitiful failure. What the public are looking for is real vision and ambition, not a towering lack of it.

“If Labour wants to be re-elected, it has to push aside the vested interests if big energy and myopia within the Treasury. If you want the public’s vote, catch up with the public mood. It’s as simple as that.”

FoE, the REA and the Co-op group say that the scheme as it currently stands, which has an overall ambition to supply just 2% of UK electricity from small-scale renewable energy sources (up to 5MW) by 2020. They argue it should offer higher payments than those proposed and aim to deliver far more clean electricity – up to one-third of the country’s total needs.

The poll also shows that 70% of respondents said that they would be prepared to pay an extra 10p on their electricity bills each month (£1.20 annually), on top of the already proposed annual increase of £1.17, until 2013 when the scheme is due to be reviewed.

Andy Atkins, the executive director of the FoE, said: “The public overwhelmingly wants the government to think big when it comes to small-scale renewable energy.

“Our homes, businesses and communities could become green power stations – but bigger government incentives are needed to make this a reality. This will help tackle climate change, create new jobs and businesses and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Jeremy Leggett, the executive chairman of solar energy group Solarcentury, said that the new government scheme could yet deliver hundreds of thousands of jobs in solar photovoltaics and other small-scale renewables. “It could also cut significantly our country’s increasing dependence on imported fossil fuels,” he added.