The myth that fossil fuels are subsidised by government has become common sense in recent years. It's based upon a deliberate confusion between subsidy and tax. A tax is money taken from person A and given to person B. It's most commonly understood in terms of taxes we pay the government: VAT, NI, Income tax, fuel duty, ... Another way to understand tax is in terms of the rentier concept. A rentier is a person collecting tax. In this 2nd definition, a landlord can be seen as taxing his tenants. A subsidy is more complex than tax. Subsidies may be a direct payment made from government to industry. An example of such may be loan guarantees, to the extent that the guarantee lowers the rate at which capital is borrowed, or reduces insurance that may have to be taken out. A subsidy can also result when government regulations mandate that one industry makes payments to another. Such examples happen in electricity generation. Wind and solar electricity having preferential access to the grid at guaranteed prices. This forces higher costs other generators. For example CCGT (gas) plants must be frequently turned on and off as wind generation rises and falls. It takes 50 minutes or so for such a gas plant to warm up before it is generating electricity. CCGT owners pay additional costs in reduced efficiency of fuel, labour and capital.
Let's compare actual taxes on fossil fuel with supposed subsidies
With rough calculations I calculate the UK taxing carbon fuels, at least, 3 times more than it subsidises them.These are UK estimates.
|Fuel duty (2009):||25.89|
|VAT on duty (2009):||3.88|
|Carbon tax (2013):||2.28|
|VAT on electricity (2012):||0.75|
|Tax - subsidy||21.56|
- 27.30% = percentage of carbon in CO2
- UK carbon tax = £18/tonne of carbon.
- Fossil fuel subsidies represent 0.45% of GDP (BBC)
- UK GDP ~ £2500 bn.
- 75% of UK electricity is generated from fossil fuels
- VAT on electricity is 5%, payable only by domestic users.
|(MtCO2)||C tax (bn)|
|Other solid fuel||10.2||0.050|
In the UK, for example, value added tax (VAT) on gas and electricity is 5% rather than the 20% charged on most other goodsLet's remember that energy is both the master commodity, and a major factor in determining labour productivity. Energy taxes are a direct tax on the whole economy and upon future productivity increases. [see: How did we British get our empire?]
- UK energy sector: facts and figures, The Telegraph
- BBC, Fossil fuel subsidies growing despite concerns
- UK DECC, 2013 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- United Kingdom National Accounts: The Blue Book (Report). Office for National Statistics. 2010.
- Green Energy Is the Real Subsidy Hog
- Wind Industry Big Lies no 1: fossil fuels are more 'subsidised' than renewables, By James Delingpole