Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Despite the spin (which is clearly not working) the impression you get is that the Con Dem Coalition Government is actually quite shambolic. If you wanted a specific government department in Westminster and Whitehall to sum up the coalition then you need look no further than the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This pretty important ministry has gone through three energy ministers in the last year, which considering this ministry allegedly looks after one of the most complex areas of legislation in Whitehall, hardly suggests any minister has had time to gain an understanding of their brief. 

This resembles little more of an expense game of musical chairs. As noted elsewhere this farce is reminiscent of Labour’s approach to the defence brief, which for those who can be asked to remember managed to feature a largely forgettable cast of nonentities, something that barely made good politics, let alone suggested that anyone had a grasp of the complexities of their ministerial brief.  Back at the DECC, the ministerial game of musical chairs had also been paralleled with a significant turnover of senior civil servants, which does not suggest that the ministry is a happy ship let alone getting on with it’s job.  

A recent report on the UK energy sector by Liberum Capital suggested that the problems at the ministry may be the least of our problems, as they suggest that current UK Energy Policy is just not plausible.  Their view is that successive UK governments have grossly underestimated the engineering, financial, and economic challenges that are posed by the drive to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030. The necessary move from a largely fossil fuel based power system to one dominated by renewables (and if Westminster and Whitehall get their way nuclear) in about a decade and a half, while keeping the lights on and consumer bills affordable, may well be simply unattainable. 

It has been estimated that the total required investment to deliver policy goals is some £161 billion pounds from now up until 2020 and some £376 billion pounds up until 2030. Even with the large projected increase in public support (which will largely fund the nuclear programme and its subsidy) provided by the Energy Bill, Liberum Capital suggest that it is difficult to envisage that the finance will be forthcoming when the large European Utility companies are actually reducing capital expenditure. The really scary bit, other than the prospect of periodic power cuts, is that even if the investment actually happens they consumers may see electricity bills rise by at least 30% by 2020 and 100% by 2030 in real terms. 

When the energy crisis (which incidentally probably won’t happen in Scotland) arrives, considering the current level of hostility being directed at the excessive profits being generated and directed towards the members of the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel, I would not be surprised if whatever government who happens to be in power does not move towards a return to some form of public or state ownership.  When we get there may be three main casualties, firstly  the government of the day who are unlucky enough to be in power , secondly the consumers (us) who may be left literally sat in the dark and the cold and finally thirdly the large energy companies (and their shareholders). 

I have no doubt that when that when the lights begin to flicker that whoever is in government (regardless of the party label) will move rapidly to protect themselves and the electorate (who also happen to be energy consumers) by securing control of the means of energy production and distribution regardless of the consequences for the energy cartel members. The real questions that may well never be answered will be why did it take so long for the Westminster government to wake up to the consequences of not really having an energy development policy and why did they leave energy planning to a cartel that were only concerned with ramping up profits?

The lights may not go out in Scotland, where successive Scottish Governments have consistently worked to tackle the threat of Climate change and develop sustainable energy reserves. Scotland is working towards a plan for a 42% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, rising to 80% by 2050. These proposals which were first unveiled in 2009 are far more ambitious than anything that has been proposed in Westminster,  where the 2020 target (set before the Con Dems came to power) for cutting carbon emissions has been set at 34%. The Scottish Government has already set out a wide-ranging vision to address climate change, which includes a drive to boost renewable energy such as wind and wave power.

Scottish Ministers also aim to see significant progress in boosting the energy efficiency of buildings, increase the number of electric vehicles on the roads and aim to cut in emissions across the farming and rural sector. This is serious forward thinking on the part of the Scottish government as energy experts have for several years been consistently warning of a serious future shortfall in Britain's energy supplies. Control of energy policy needs to be devolved to the National Assembly and it’s time for some original non nuclear thinking and a fundamental sea change in attitude from government in Wales when it comes to energy policy. 

Imagine what we could do if our Government (in Cardiff) possessed similar powers (and the political will and imagination) to develop the alternative energy sector here in Wales as is being done in Scotland. Rather than empty platitudes we need real direction when it comes to the development of safe and secure energy resources as power generation can provide the potential for real community beneficial and sustainable long term job opportunities. The renewable energy sector should play an immensely important role in creating more green energy jobs and make sure that our lights stay on rather than end up dancing in the dark!.

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