I have been in Brussels this week, visiting the Zeebrugge LNG import terminal and giving a talk at a commercial energy storage conference. Since getting home yesterday I have been rather distracted by the UK election. The political landscape has changed completely while barely changing at all. Conservatives in control at Westminster is nothing new. The Scottish National Party winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats is. Constitutional change is now inevitable.
Will Ed Davey be missed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change?
Rarely have we witnessed three party leaders resigning so swiftly in the wake of an election. Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Milliband have all fallen on their swords. In his resignation speech Nick Clegg mentioned how green the Lib Dems were several times, but clearly this is not a huge draw for most Brits. The Green Party won a single seat. Former Secretary of State for Energy, Ed Davey lost his seat – good riddance to that anti capitalist Green. But the green state of the British mind is not so simple to analyse. The SNP have the most progressive renewable energy policy of any party anywhere. And UKIP, with perhaps the most sensible energy policy won only a single seat. I think its fair to say that affordable and secure energy supplies were not uppermost in voters’ minds yesterday. Nor was re-writing the constitution of the UK, but that is what we have got.
So what will the new government be doing on energy policy? The Tory energy manifesto is reproduced below the fold.
Guaranteeing you clean, affordable and secure energy supplies
Our commitment to you:
Affordable, reliable energy is critical to our economy, to our national security, and to family budgets. We will:
- keep your bills as low as possible and promote competition in the energy market
- ensure your homes and businesses have energy supplies they can rely on
- help you insulate your home
- halt the spread of subsidised onshore wind farms
- meet our climate change commitments, cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible, to save you money
Without secure energy supplies our country becomes less safe and less prosperous
Without secure energy supplies, we leave British families and business at the mercy of fluctuating global oil and gas prices; we increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy; and we become less safe and less prosperous as a result.
National energy policy demands a willingness to take decisions today for the good of tomorrow. But Labour took the opposite approach. Power margins – the safety cushion we need to prevent blackouts – have fallen to record lows because of their historic failure to invest in new capacity. Domestic sources of oil and gas were unexploited. And Labour failed to deliver the next generation of energy projects that will help us keep the lights on, drive bills down and reduce carbon emissions.
All this hurt consumers. The number of major energy suppliers halved and energy bills soared, with the average gas bill more than doubling.
We have taken a different approach. Where Labour was chronically short-termist, we have secured decent, affordable energy supplies not just for the coming years, but for the coming decades.
Our long-term plan has unlocked £59 billion of investment in electricity. All parts of the UK will soon be helping to deliver secure, affordable and low-carbon energy, from the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, to offshore wind turbine manufacturing at the new Green Port in Hull, the next generation of pipelines West of Shetland and the Swansea tidal lagoon. Our tax cuts have encouraged record levels of investment in existing North Sea gas, and the birth of a new industry, shale gas, which could create many thousands of jobs.
And we have delivered a better deal for consumers too. We have demanded that energy companies simplify their tariffs; encouraged more independent suppliers – which now account for ten per cent of the household market; and made it much easier for people to switch energy providers.
But the job is only half done. We need a Conservative Government to see through this long-term plan and secure clean but affordable energy supplies for generations to come. This means a significant expansion in new nuclear and gas; backing good-value green energy; and pushing for more new investment in UK energy sources. Healthy competition, not short-termist political intervention, is the best way to secure a good deal for consumers. So we will keep on relentlessly pushing for more competition to keep bills low.
This is a long-term plan to keep the lights on; keep our homes warm; and keep families from endless worry about their energy bills.
Under Labour, the average gas bill more than doubled
Our plan of action:
We will promote competition to keep your bills as low as possible
We have helped increase the number of independent energy suppliers from seven to 21, made it easier for customers to switch to better deals, slashed the number of tariffs to just 4 per supplier, and cut switching times in half. We will go even further, implementing the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority investigation that we triggered. We will ensure that every home and business in the country has a Smart Meter by 2020, delivered as cost-effectively as possible, so consumers have instant, accurate bills and can switch to an alternative provider within one day. And we will support low-cost measures on energy efficiency, with the goal of insulating a million more homes over the next five years, supporting our commitment to tackle fuel poverty.
We will secure your energy supplies
We will continue to support the safe development of shale gas, and ensure that local communities share the proceeds through generous community benefit packages. We will create a Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England, so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North. We will continue to support development of North Sea oil and gas. We will provide start-up funding for promising new renewable technologies and research, but will only give significant support to those that clearly represent value for money.
We want a better deal – and low bills – for hardworking families
3.1 million people are now on better energy tariffs
We will halt the spread of onshore windfarms
Onshore wind now makes a meaningful contribution to our energy mix and has been part of the necessary increase in renewable capacity. Onshore windfarms often fail to win public support, however, and are unable by themselves to provide the firm capacity that a stable energy system requires. As a result, we will end any new public subsidy for them and change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications.
We will protect our planet for our children
We have been the greenest government ever, setting up the world’s first Green Investment Bank, signing a deal to build the first new nuclear plant in a generation, trebling renewable energy generation to 19 per cent, bringing energy efficiency measures to over one million homes, and committing £1 billion for carbon capture and storage. We are the largest offshore wind market in the world. We will push for a strong global climate deal later this year – one that keeps the goal of limiting global warming to two-degrees firmly in reach. At home, we will continue to support the UK Climate Change Act. We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible, and will not support additional distorting and expensive power sector targets.
This is a bit of a mixed bag trying to be all things to all people. Some of the themes are transparently good. A commitment to affordability and security of supplies is good. A commitment to protecting the environment is also good – a broad commitment, not just the single focus on CO2 emissions. An ongoing commitment to energy efficiency and insulating homes is good. The ending of the onshore wind subsidy gravy train will also please many south of the border. I’m not sure if this will apply up north. Continued support for the North Sea is clearly welcome as is support for R&D into sensible renewable technologies.
Support for nuclear power is also welcome but here a little more than support is required. The forces that have been allowed to grow within society that present barriers to the safe and economic development of the nuclear industry need to be rolled back.
But there is also an ugly side. Blaming Labour for the doubling of gas prices is a bit rich since global energy prices went through the roof outwith political control at that time. Believing that Labour may have been to blame belies ignorance of the real cause of soaring energy prices and without understanding the cause the remedies will not be pursued. Also claiming that they have created a shale gas industry is pure fantasy. And while they have now listened to the legitimate concerns of the public regarding the deployment of onshore wind turbines they should also consider the LEGITIMATE concerns of country dwellers who oppose fracking.
And while there is much to commend this raft of policies they have not managed to shake off the contradictory bonkers tail. They will find that continuing to pay lip service to emissions control and climate talks will make it difficult or near impossible to deliver the raft of common sense detailed above. And above all, how on Earth do they reconcile continued commitment to CCS whilst at the same time arguing for energy efficiency and lower prices? They could and should have made a commitment to repeal or amend the 2008 Climate Change Act that would have cleared the way to deliver affordability and security.
So who will replace Ed Davey? The return of Owen Paterson is one obvious possibility. He would simply ignore the bonkers parts of the manifesto. But it would be good to have a scientist or an engineer who actually understands some of the key components of energy delivery starting with thermodynamics.