The introduction of trade barriers following Brexit could inflate the cost of importing electricity and gas from Europe and drive up British energy bills, suppliers and energy bodies have warned.
Energy groups including French firms EDF and Energie have signed a letter to European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and UK Prime Minister Theresa May cautioning that any post-Brexit tariffs imposed on the use of interconnectors, electricity cables and gas pipelines between the UK and continental Europe, would hit consumers’ wallets and stall progress against climate change.
A free flow of energy across Europe is necessary to maintain “a level playing field that keeps costs down for consumers and ensures decarbonisation and security of supply,” the letter, dated 4 September, states.
The letter argues that the free use of interconnectors is vital to Europe’s transition to cleaner energy and the fight against global warning. Imported energy helps balance energy supplies and provides backup sources of power when wind and solar energy aren’t available.
“Any imposition of tariff or non-tariff barriers to the flows of energy across interconnectors would increase the cost of the low carbon transition and set back action on climate change,” the letter, whose signatories included green energy groups RenewableUK and WindEurope, states.
Signatories have urged that Brexit negotiations prioritise a “comprehensive climate and energy chapter” to smooth the transition. They have also pushed for the UK and the EU to continue to cooperate to implement the Paris climate agreement and for the UK to maintain its participation in the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) until 2030.
“The EU ETS has created a level environmental playing field for energy intensive facilities across Europe. Unpicking the UK’s participation in the mechanism would be complicated,” the letter states.
Currently 6% of the UK’s electricity demand is met by power imported from Europe via interconnectors. The figure is expected to rise to 20% as between 8 and 14 GW of new interconnectors come online in 2019. However, a hard Brexit could compromise future investment in cross-border energy links.
Tariffs on imported electricity could also jeopardise the existence of the Irish single electricity market, the letter warns. The UK government has already drawn up plans to send generators on barges to Northern Ireland if the Irish electricity market collapses in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.
The letter echoes concerns already voiced by the House of Lords and British energy bodies that a no-deal Brexit could be chaotic and costly for the UK’s energy supply and policy.
Pete Clutton-Brock, from the E3G environmental think tank which coordinated the letter, said a no-deal Brexit “would lead to an increase in UK energy bills, undermine action on climate change and threaten the supply chains of strategically important industries such as offshore wind, electric vehicles and battery technology.”
A government spokesperson dismissed concerns raised in the letter: “The UK has always been one of the most ambitious and leading countries in the world, including Europe, when it comes to tackling climate change and that commitment is unwavering.
“As set out in the [Brexit] white paper, we will maintain our high standards after we leave the European Union and we will respond in full to this letter in due course.”