Bloomberg says officials are looking to exclude UK from EU renewables targets while retaining access to bloc’s energy market

The UK is reportedly investigating how it could scrap its renewable energy targets for 2020 without disrupting trade in energy with the rest of the EU.

Bloomberg reported this morning that officials at the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are looking at how to drop the UK’s legally binding target to source 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

The move had been widely expected given the UK government has been a long-standing critic of the targets, arguing they limit the ability of governments to meet carbon targets using alternative technologies , such as nuclear, carbon capture and storage, or energy efficiency gains, that may be more suitable for their national circumstances.

However, supporters of the targets maintain they have helped mobilise investment in renewables that has resulted in drastic cost reductions for renewable technologies, such as onshore wind farms and solar.

The UK is thought to be particularly keen to see the targets for 2020 dropped as it is currently on track to narrowly miss the goal, due to a slower than expected roll out of renewable heat and clean transport technologies. It is also said to be opposed to new targets to source 27 per cent of EU energy from renewables by 2030.

Missing the 2020 target could leave the UK liable for millions of pounds of fines – a scenario that would result in a major political challenge for the government post-Brexit.

However, Bloomberg also reported that in addition to scrapping the targets the government is keen to maintain daily energy trading with Europe’s energy market.

Cross border trading is credited with helping to lower energy costs and is set to expand with the proposed development of new interconnectors to the continent and the growing reliance on intermittent sources of renewable energy. Advocates of clean energy argue a North Sea ‘supergrid’ will help maximise renewables output, allow for energy to be stored using Norwegian pumped hydro plants, and curb the overall cost of low carbon power.

Consequently, the EU is likely to be keen to maintain energy trading with the UK. But the group of 27 remaining EU member states has also signalled that continued UK compliance with environmental and energy goals is likely to be a condition of any new UK-EU trade deal post-Brexit, amidst fears weaker environmental standards could allow UK firms to undercut their rivals on the continent.

As such, similarly complex negotiations are expected over EU imposed recycling targets for 2020, which the UK is also set to miss, and air quality goals, which the UK is currently facing a court order to come up with a credible plan to comply with.

Green groups remain concerned these various environmental targets could be scrapped post-Brexit, or could be retained without any legal mechanism to fully enforce them in the absence of recourse to European courts.

However, political pressure on the government to maintain green rules post-Brexit is building. The latest news came as a poll commissioned by the Bright Blue think tank found 85 per cent of Conservative voters want renewable energy targets to be maintained or strengthened post-Brexit, while clear majorities want wider environmental protections to be kept in place.

The news also comes as reports emerged the government’s long awiated 25 Year Plan for Nature could be further delayed until 2018. The wide-ranging plan had been expected last year, but was delayed in the wake of the EU referendum. The ENDS Report this week reported the new strategy, which had been expected in the coming weeks, would not now be released in its current form.

A spokeswoman for Defra said the government remained committed to delivering the promised plan, but refused to be drawn on when it would be released.

“Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and we are committed to publishing a long-term plan that builds on our long history of wildlife and environmental protection, and sets out a new approach to managing the environment,” she said.