I’ve been spending the last few months warning of the fact that the energy policy of the new Tory government was completely unworkable and at odds with proposed action on climate change. It would almost certainly lead to the UK missing its green energy targets and create a strong chilling effect that would imperil investment in the UK’s ageing electricity network. The Energy minister assured anyone who dared to ask, that this wasn’t the case, that she was confident that the UK would meet its commitments.
Well a recently leaked letter reveals a very different story. It suggests that while Amber Rudd been presenting a brave face in public, letters have been exchanged between ministers all but admitting that the UK will now miss its green targets. Worse still, this will trigger billions of pounds in fines from the EU (as these targets are part of legally binding cuts the EU agreed to as a successor to the Kyoto protocol). She suggests host of fairly desperate measures to resolve this, ranging from a massively expensive interconnector with Norway or even the government financing the installation of renewable energy in other countries (imagine what the tabloids will make of that, us paying not for wind farms in the UK, but in Romania or Poland!).
Obviously this is a telling insight into how the Tory government functions. Lies and spin in public and desperate running around with their hair on fire in private. A fire they are forced to put out with large amounts of public money.
Take this idea of an inter-connector to Norway. While this is actually something I’d favour, as it would offset the need for more energy storage in the UK to even out the peaks and troughs in renewable generation (particularly if the Norwegians convert their large hydro capacity to include more pumped storage).
However I would envisage this as part of a long term plan, with as much power flowing from Britain to Norway (or the other nations its connected too), than we buy back off them. The Tory plan proposed by Amber Rudd would be very expensive to implement in the short term. And at times of peak winter demand, the power being sold by such interconnectors will be very expensive. And to be blunt other EU states are more used to higher energy prices and will likely win the bidding war over the UK.
And in further developments, the energy industry seems to be loosing confidence in the UK government. The world energy council has cut their rating for the reliability of the UK’s grid. Until recently, the UK has been considered a fairly safe bet, given its access to North sea gas, good interconnection with European neighbours and any gaps in UK generation being filled by a rapidly expanding renewables sector.
However the cuts to subsidies and the single minded obsession with Hinkley C seems to have shattered market confidence. Recently EDF was advised by its own employee shareholders that the companies future would be at risk if they press ahead with Hinkley C. Both Standards & Poor and Moody’s have threatened to downgrade the companies credit rating if the project goes ahead. And market traders have been advising clients to dump EDF stock.
Weighting all this up one is forced to one of two rather worrying conclusions. The first is that Amber Rudd and her advisers (in the pay of certain pro-fracking lobbyists I might add) are actually more clueless and incompetent than we thought. That the penny only dropped for them recently. Her letter reminds me of the sort of e-mail I’d get from a student whose not attended lectures (or texted on her phone through them) just prior to an exam along the lines of “I don’t understand any of this” and they basically wants someone to dig them out of a hole of their own creation.
The other conclusion is slightly more worrying. That the energy minister of the UK is not in fact Amber Rudd, but in fact is Osborne. In essence Rudd’s job involves turning on and off the lights in her office and upping the gender balance in Cameron’s cabinet. In truth she has no real authority to implement policy. The letter might have been forwarded on to several minsters, but the tone of it was clearly directed at Osborne. Obviously, given the chancellors single minded obsession with austerity, its doubtful any sort of meaningful policy will emerge….until the lights go out …but then its going to be too late!
In essence, much like the rest of the economy, Osborne has created a regime of energy haves and have nots. Massively expensive and lavishly funded fracking and nuclear operations (who may generate some power at some distant future date), with renewables and old coal fired stations (both vital to keeping the lights on today) who are now living hand to mouth.
As with other recent revelations (which I take as a sign that civil servants are becoming increasingly disgruntled…and where not even a year into the present government!) this shows the level of bungling incompetence at the heart of the UK government. And why the country is well on the way to becoming a basket case as regards long term energy policy.