The Independent View: Why Ed Davey should support Tim Yeo for the sake of our energy and environment’

Wind turbine - Some rights reserved by thomas vlIt feels very odd praising a Conservative MP on a Lib Dem website as a member of the Labour party, but that’s exactly what I’m doing today.

The Conservative MP Tim Yeo is taking a principled stand on the Energy Bill and plans to include a ‘decarbonisation target’ amendment as the Bill gets debated in Parliament. He says the Treasury must stop supporting gas and focus on getting a significant percentage of our all electricity from clean sources by 2030.

He told a group of energy investors (FT) in the City:

Lumbering the economy with a centralised power system largely reliant on gas would be like running an office using a fax machine in the age of the iPad.

I think the choice facing Britain is clear. We can embrace the technology of the future, set a target to reduce our present heavy dependence on fossil fuels and upgrade our electricity system. Or we can cling to the combustion-based technologies of the past, gamble the future on assumptions about the availability of abundant cheap gas and slow down the process of decarbonising our economy.

Those words should be music to anyone who cares not just for the environment but also for the future of our energy policy. George Osborne is vastly inflating the benefits and returns from Shale Gas ‘fracking’ in the UK. Boris Johnson is helpfully churning out very misleading articles to bolster the case.

I’m writing on LibdemVoice to urge Ed Davey to support the amendment, and to encourage Libdems to lobby him to do so.

We need a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill to ensure this government does not kick the development of clean energy into the long grass. Our environment and energy needs are too vital to be held ransom by the extremists from the Tory Right.

Obviously I hope the Labour party will also support the amendment, but a lot will depend on how Ed Davey decides to approach it.

The intervention by Tim Yeo is driven by pragmatism not blind ideology. As he told the Radio 4 Today programme yesterday: “What we want to see is scale up the renewable technologies, and that way they may become cost competitive and Britain could be a leader once again in an energy revolution.”

I hope Ed Davey and the Libdems can also get behind that vision.

* Sunny Hundal is editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

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8 Comments

  • About time you lot got real limiting out CO2 emissions are nothing compared to the increase in such countries as China so why should we in these difficult times pay to subsidise other countries to continue polluting get real STOP it STOP your illogical CO2 aims scrap them an enrich this country

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Dec '12 - 12:57pm

    The position of the Liberal Democrats is very clear after the motion we passed at our last conference. I think this is an issue that is important enough that all Lib Dems MPs should back Tim Yeo and Labour. This is not about party politics, it is the our future on this planet.

  • Well said, Geoffrey.

    Fossil fuels are no longer cheap and come at the cost of Global warming, an existential threat to the majority of the planets popoulation.

    Clean renewable energy technology offers this country opportunities akin to the development of the steam engine in a world reliant on horsepower.

  • Paul Holmes 20th Dec '12 - 2:39pm

    Geoffrey, I do agree with what you say -but ‘back Labour’ sticks in the throat when they spent 13 years in office ‘talking the environmental talk but not walking the walk’ (to mis quote Full Metal Jacket).

    But as with the ‘appalling necessity’ of going into Coalition with the Tories you have to hold your nose and get on with it if you ever want to achieve anything in politics (the art of the possible). Just don’t ever let hypocritical Labour ever get away with pretending to be holier than thou -over anything.

  • The main problem with the proposal, beyond the impression it looks principally like a political stunt to stoke tensions in the Coalition, is that the UK cannot unilaterally save the planet from climate change by forcing the pace on our own decarbonisation, ahead of everyone else.

    A unilateral decarbonisation target, which is what this is, principally means signalling to energy intensive investors that they should invest elsewhere and ship product to the UK. This includes investors in the nuclear and renewables supply chain, whose kit requires energy intensive manufacture.

    This ‘green growth paradox’ also impacts electric vehicles, greener aerospace technologies, and sustainable construction products . In fact it’s very hard to see which parts of the Government’s industrial strategy are not negatively impacted by a commitment to deliberately make UK energy more expensive regardless of what other countries do.

    There are mitigations, Because the paradox is well understood, the Government is committed to offset some costs of decarbonisation to industry, But this in turn means consumers will bear more of the cost and it’s not at all obvious the public will take that strain. It is already the case that the price of domestic energy is one of the top issues raised by voters.

    Another mitigation is channelling resources to R&D in future low carbon technology rather than current kit, the performance of which is well understood and is simply not good enough yet to replace coal and gas. For that you don’t need a target, just a sensible innovation strategy, which is what the Government have in part just produced with the Research Councils.

    A third mitigation is the presumption that carbon energy costs must rise, dramatically . Low carbon is then also low cost. But this is quite an heroic assumption at a time when US gas prices are 3-5 times lower than our own due to shale gas. Should that persist the LNG shipping market will expand and there will be drilling in the UK and the rest of the EU.

    It is not at all obvious then what the price of gas will be in 2020, let alone 2030. The recent CCC report on the matter simply assumes policy, i.e. drilling restrictions and carbon pricing will force up prices. Neither is certain, and deliberately forcing up the local price of gas through policy when you are already assuming it will be expensive is rather bonkers. Particularly not when we will still need it for heating and as a feedstock to industry in 2030 regardless of the state of generation.

    Further I’m not even clear the decarbonisation target would achieve the ‘certainty’ for investors that proponents claim for it. We live in a democracy. Government today cannot bind their successors through legal diktat. And no government in 2025 is going to deliberately crash the public finances or economy to hit this target. No more at least than the current government is going to dramatically change benefits or confiscate wealth to hit the 2020 Child Poverty Target. It is a far less important signal than the promised ‘strike price’ for different technologies.

    Ed Davey then has a very difficult tight-rope to walk, one where he is constantly considering trade-offs. Affordability versus security versus decarbonisation. The sectional interests of different industry sectors. Consumer Bills. Fuel Poverty. Policy versus regulation versus nudge campaigns… and so on. He cannot please everyone and the Treasury can veto anything it considers economically unwise.

    Under those circumstances the sensible thing to do is retain flexibility. Something which he has via the already legal system of carbon budgets that can be adjusted as national circumstance and technological feasibility change.

    Sticking yet another legal target on top of that – particularly one which treats the issue one-dimensionally – and looks like a political stunt by opponents – is surely not wise?

  • paul barker 21st Dec '12 - 9:34am

    This is a classic stunt with as much principle behind it as labours position on AV or Europe. We would be suckers to fall for it.

  • Meanwhile Barry Gardiner, Labour’s Energy and Climate Change panjandrum, is lavished with air junkets around the world in his quest to lower carbon emissions, thousands descend annually on exotic, air conditioned venues to emit a lot of hot air – and, of course, a certain political pundit flies to and fro to America and uses his oh-so important political standing to influence the presidential election.
    I’m waiting with bated breath the amount of condemnation that will be heaped on to the Tories when large numbers of frozen bodies are being carried from poorly heated homes.
    Deutsche bank must be cracking up over profit sheets inflated by carbon tariffs. And I must not forget to mention a couple of the many conflicts of interest – Miriam Clegg, on the board of wind abusers Acciona, and Tim Yeo, Chairman of TMO Renewables.
    Stinking hypocrites – the lot of you!
    Still, we’re all Tories now, aren’t we.

  • Anonymous this time 21st Dec '12 - 11:43pm

    “the UK cannot unilaterally save the planet from climate change by forcing the pace on our own decarbonisation, ahead of everyone else. ”

    It would be more appropriate to say “the UK cannot unilaterally condemn the planet to climate change by slowing the pace on our own decarbonisation, behind almost everyone else. But we are having a good try at it!”

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