Greek Debt Crisis Exposes Green Energy Subsidies
If the debt crisis is a tragedy for the people of Greece, the EUs bailout attempts look increasingly comedic. A second bailout, worth EUR130 billion ($171 billion), is currently under negotiation to enable Greece to stump up EUR14.5 billion ($19.1 billion) by the March 20 deadline to avoid defaulting on its bond repayments.
But bailout or not, the level of exposure of leading Western economies to Greece’s debt suggests that a raft of government subsidy cuts, especially for renewable energy, will not be the last.
Green subsidies rolling back
When governments commit massive tranches of taxpayer cash to seed-fund market-bucking projects it is always a risky enterprise. First of all it has opportunistic entrepreneurs lining up to create ‘facts on the ground’ – an appearance of a growth industry. That’s all fine and dandy while economies are reasonably buoyant. But the economic cracks quickly appear for governments accountable to electorates when a downturn, such as the West experienced in 2008, hits.
In late January President Barack Obama’s much-vaunted Spanish renewable energy ‘success’ story became the latest high-profile victim of subsidy cutbacks when the Madrid government unexpectedly dropped the axe on plans for all new renewable energy projects. Spain’s decision followed hard on the heels of a similar decision by Germany to phase out its solar subsidy regime entirely by 2017. The British Government too is currently embroiled in a court battle to cut in half the overly-generous solar subsidy scheme set up by the previous Labour Government. New coalition energy minister, Lord Marland, described it as “one of the most ridiculous schemes ever dreamed up”, and a new study confirms that the cost of switching to greener energy in the UK would be in the region of lb60 billion every year until 2050. As if that wasn’t bad enough, PM David Cameron is having to contend with a serious rebellion of 100 of his own Conservative Party MPs who are demanding an end to all new onshore wind farm development in Britain.
In addition, the Italian Government has recently dealt a body blow to Italy’s solar power industry by announcing retroactive legislation that will mean an end to feed-in tariffs for photovoltaic (PV) plants on agricultural land. Switzerland too has just announced a further ten percent cut in PV feed-in tariffs for consumers, amounting to a total cut in subsidies of 18 percent.
In the United States, the popularity of ‘green electricity’ in general has been tested in that most liberal, social-engineering of states, Massachusetts. Five years after the state legislature introduced a voluntary program allowing customers to buy wind farm-sourced electricity at a higher premium to reveal their “social good” green credentials, less than 1 in 900,000 customers have enrolled in the scheme. The dismal response is representative of similar figures achieved by renewable schemes run by utilities in other states.
It seems the harsh economic realities, not global warmist theory, is fast dictating a wholesale review of national energy policies. So exactly how much Greek debt are various economies exposed to?
Greek debt: Who’s exposed?
Greece’s own banks hold a total of $62.8 billion of the country’s debt. According to the Bank for International Settlements, however, the financial exposure of other countries to Greece’s debt varies significantly. Among those EU states perhaps least able to bear it currently, Italy’s exposure stands at $1.87 billion, Belgium’s $1.9 billion and Spain’s $462 million. Though Switzerland is not in the EU, it too has a government debt exposure to Greece of $571 million. Outside Europe, the U.S. Government has an exposure level of around $2.32 billion. But debt exposure cranks up massively when it comes to the EU’s leading economies. The UK’s Greek debt exposure is running at $3.25 billion. While the UK is not a member of the Eurozone 17, however, France and Germany are; and their exposures total a staggering $10.69 billion and $12.41 billion, respectively. It is not difficult to see why France and Germany are pressing the Athens Government, at time of writing, to accept even more severe austerity measures than those that led to street riots in 2011.
The financial profligacy of Europe’s southern socialist states with their high maintenance subsidy regimes, have particularly brought state-backed renewable energy economics into sharper focus. Quite simply, feed-in tariffs and other complex systems of green taxes that have kept the public in the dark concerning the true cost of the ‘green revolution’ are becoming harder to hide.
Even so, EU energy minister, Marlene Holzner, was quick to condemn Spain’s slashing of its renewable subsidies, a decision Spain’s conservative government took unilaterally without reference to the EU or to its renewable energy companies. “The suspension of all renewable energy projects will have a disturbing impact on investment in this sector,” said Holzner. She added, “Reforms should be undertaken with the market players and not with such stop-start approaches”. Holzner’s comments reveal an even more deep-seated tragic-comedic irony.
Since its inception the EU has not once achieved an unqualified audited set of accounts to put before its taxpaying millions. Unlike democratic governments, it is not accountable for its spending, not least through the subsidization of expensive, poor energy return wind and solar projects. Expansive renewable energy subsidization may be politic in the ideological world in Brussels, but in the real world of accountable democracies the Greek debt is exposing it as an increasingly hot political issue. The bottom line for renewables entrepreneurs and private investors alike is: brace yourself. The rash of recent renewable energy subsidy cuts is certain to be just the start – whether Greece defaults, or not.