The alarm raised by the Chief Executive of Ofgem earlier this week over a looming energy ‘near crisis’ will not have come as a shock to most people. This is not the first time we have heard how our islands will struggle to support increasing energy demands in a carbon constrained world.
However, the major insight that Ofgem has provided relates to timing. Ofgem’s analysis points very clearly to 2015 as being the critical year when our reliance on imported gas could lead to a major spike in bills.
Lest we forget, 2015 is also the year of the next general election. Therefore how political parties react to the issue of providing new energy capacity and protecting consumers from rising energy bills could be a critical election issue. We all know the election will be about the economy, but to ignore the impact of energy policy on the economy, really would be stupid.
The good news is that the Lib Dems are delivering on energy policy. Supporting the green economy was one of our four key election pledges. In coalition we have gone a great deal further than that.
Ed Davey has delivered the Energy Bill which, once passed, will surely rank as one of the Lib Dems’ most significant legislative achievements of this parliament. Early indications are that the Green Deal will grow into a popular and powerful policy. We have continued progress on emission reductions and have honoured our international commitments to finance clean development abroad.
We can do more. As fuel poverty increases we should protect vulnerable consumers through ring-fencing receipts from carbon taxes. Ofgem needs more teeth to tackle profiteering and energy companies must be made to answer for gas price-fixing and failure to make switching more straightforward. We also need stronger support for community energy schemes and a better slate of incentives for communities being asked to shoulder the burden of our new energy infrastructure. Nuclear will need to be part of the solution and it will not be delivered without subsidy.
We have control of what might be a crucial battlefield for 2015. To hold that ground we need to shout louder about our achievements, and dedicate ourselves to a rational and visionary set of policies that will show the electorate that we are the best choice to manage this complicated brief to 2020. The relationship between the needs of the nation, the rights of a local community and the finances of individuals and families must be carefully balanced. As Ofgem’s ‘near crisis’ bites, we should be the party, both locally and nationally, pointing the way to the bright energy future that is on the other side.
* Alex Meredith is a former PPC for Wantage and writes a blog on energy and climate policy at www.brightgreendragon.com