Leaked letter: UK climate minister Amber Rudd admits UK won’t meet 2020 renewables target

UK energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd has admitted that the UK won’t meet its 2020 renewables target in a private letter to colleagues leaked to The Ecologist.

The 2020 renewables target of 15% of all UK energy from renewable sources is legally binding at the EU level, and missing it could set into motion a judicial review or fines levied by the EU courts.

In the leaked letter, Rudd said the UK was currently on a trajectory to miss the target and admitted the remaining options open to the government appear insufficient to meet the shortfall.

She wrote that between 2017/18 and 2020 there is 50Twh deficit of renewable energy needed to achieve the target – a significant amount relative to the overall target. 

“The trajectory currently leads to a shortfall… in our internal central forecasts (which are not public).

“Publicly we are clear that the UK continues to make progress to meet the target.” – Amber Rudd in the leaked letter 

Then, while ignoring any expansion in wind or solar, Rudd outlines various options to plug the gap – but none that she mentions are able to fully do so.

She suggests that renewable heat technology would add 20Twh, bio-methane could add 2Twh over what it is already expected to perform, and that the UK could maybe – though unlikely – get around 30Twh from a European credit system. This would still leave 8 Twh under the best case scenario.

Rudd also outlines plans for interconnection with Norway to deliver 10Twh but admits this won’t be in place until after the deadline – in 2021.

In the letter to to Cabinet colleagues Philip Hammond (foreign secretary), Oliver Letwin (Cabinet Office), Greg Hands (chief secretary to the Treasury) and Patrick McLoughlin (transport secretary) Rudd also highlights the difference about what is being said publicly and what she is prepared to tell them privately:

“The trajectory currently leads to a shortfall against the target in 2020 of around 50 TWh or 3.5% points in our internal central forecasts (which are not public).

“Publicly we are clear that the UK continues to make progress to meet the target.”

The admission – which refers to forecasts not seen by the public – comes after Rudd stressed to Parliament in June that the cuts to support for solar and onshore wind still left the UK “on course” to meet its renewable electricity targets.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change later tweeted that The Ecologist piece on the letter is misleading, confusing the overall renewable target with the electricity renewable target.

Although, 50Twh down in our energy mix, it might be difficult to meet the overall energy target unless there are huge strides ahead in heat and transport by 2020 – or renewables power generation contributes more to the overall target.

The government proposes to cut the Feed in Tariff for solar by 87%, which will affect homeowner and business rooftop solar, and curtail the Renewables Obligation by a year, which will affect onshore wind and solar farms.

Also community energy projects look less likely to get off the ground after changes to the tax relief for investors in community-owned schemes mean they are less viable.