The Independent View: Liberal Democrats must not be complicit in Osborne’s dash for gas

Friends of the Earth and the Liberal Democrats have long had similar visions for our energy future: more renewables; phasing out fossil fuels; ramping up energy efficiency. In short, getting pollution and consumer bills down, while increasing energy self-sufficiency.

Everything about this vision is now at stake.

The ‘quad’ – the coalition’s decision-making grouping of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Alexander – are locked in negotiations with Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey over a 2030 ‘decarbonisation’ target in the Government’s Energy Bill legislation.

Such a target would commit the UK to almost entirely carbon-free power generation in 20 years’ time, in line with advice from the Government’s independent advisors the Committee on Climate Change. It would give the long term certainty investors and manufacturers need, and would fire the starting gun on a low-carbon revolution.

Liberal Democrats formally voted to support a decarbonisation target at conference in September. Danny Alexander’s motion was warmly supported and is now party policy. Polling by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace showed this commitment is popular with potential Lib Dem voters, and Lib Dems from across the party including Fiona Hall MEP have articulated why the target is so important.

Friends of the Earth’s recent infographic reveals the immense weight of support among businesses, NGOs and even energy companies. It also shows who opposes the target: the gas-guzzling chancellor and two of the ‘big six’ energy companies.

George Osborne and his anti-wind, climate ‘luke-warmists’ are doing all they can to block the 2030 target’s inclusion in the Energy Bill – even with its expected publication now days away.

If Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Ed Davey fail to win this fight and instead deliver George Osborne’s dash for gas, the Lib Dems’ long held and hard won green credentials will be irrecoverable.

As the changing climate bears its teeth in the Americas and Europe and the World Bank, the CIA and PriceWaterhouseCoopers issue stark warnings of our terrifying emissions trajectory, we are relying on brave and principled politicians to seize this tiny window of opportunity to get us on the path to a low-carbon future.

Many Liberal Democrats will highlight the recent wind subsidies fight, the green investment bank and the green deal as examples of Lib Dems’ greening effect in Government.

But these wilt in comparison with the potential consequences of taking carbon out of our power sector. Get this right, and it’s all the easier for other sectors to follow suit.

Get it wrong, and look forward to a raft of new fossil fuel and nuclear power stations, high energy bills, and a continuation of the status quo.

Lib Dems’ ability to secure a 2030 decarbonisation target and all that it unlocks will be the key test of their time in office. It will be this – above everything else – upon which they will be judged.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Craig Bennett is Policy and Campaigns Director of Friends of the Earth

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • Simon McGrath 22nd Nov '12 - 7:25pm

    Intrigued that you say more renewables will get bills down. Given that they are far more expensive than gas can you explain this ?

  • David Pollard 22nd Nov '12 - 8:07pm

    First an answer to Simon:- In 1972 the price of oil was $3/barrel, now it is over $110. If in 1973, when we had the first oil shock we had immediately begun a programme of renewables which we are doing now we would have become self sufficient in domestic renewable energy long before now. The price of electricity would not continually rise faster than inflation as it does now.The domestic price of electricity has doubled in real terms in the last 6 years. If and when we go from electricity based on fossil fuels to one based on renewables it will cost more, but in the long run would pay

    Second: Seperat e the short term from the long term. To fill the electricity supply gap coming up the only solution is gas fired plant because it is the only technology which can built in time. What we should do is site all the new plant on the east coast of Britain and design them so that they are ‘carbon capture ready’. In parallel we continue with the renewables programme. A bonus for gas is that all new gas fired plant, even without CCS, will produce less that half of the emmissions than from the coal fired plant they replace – and produce negligible acid rain gas.

  • jenny barnes 22nd Nov '12 - 8:42pm

    CCS ready? It is to laugh. The only point of CCS is so that people can pretend they can carry on generating with fossil fuels. CCS takes 25% of the power generated to cool the exhaust gas, for a start, and the CO2 has to be stored for several thousand years for it to be worthwhile. Most ex oil / gas reservoirs will leak in decades, not millenia. It’s worse than nuclear waste for the storage problem. And why does the OP speak so dismissively of Q a raft of new … nuclear power stations UNQ ? Last time I looked, nuclear was near enough zero carbon, and could be built reasonably quickly. So nuclear could bridge some of the gap to a full renewable system.

  • Christine Headley 22nd Nov '12 - 10:12pm

    @ jenny barnes

    OP? Q? UNQ? I might agree with you if I understood what you were trying to say.

  • Whoops! FT have it early…

    “The compromise, to be set out on Friday, means Ed Davey, Lib Dem energy secretary, dropping a demand for a 2030 electricity sector decarbonisation target, which would have pleased environmentalists but angered owners of gas-fired power stations.”

  • More renewables will only get the bills down, if they are the right renewables!

    We now know that wind specifically is a very poor energy source, for two reasons firstly because there is no linkage between wind and electricity demand (so we still have to run coal/oil/gas/nuclear) and secondly we compound this by directly connecting wind farms to the electricity grid rather than putting them to other uses that can handle a fluctuating energy supply. Hence it is right that we significantly reduce or withdraw the subsidy from it.

    Other forms of renewables, such as solar voltaic’s, solar thermal, geothermal and others have different profiles which mean that they actually do enable us to predictably reduce power station output. Hence it is right that these should continue to receive subsidy. Likewise energy efficiency measures help to reduce demand in a predictable manner.

    Finally, still no movement on nuclear – it is looking increasingly likely that this government is trying to avoid making any decision on nuclear beyond the 2015 election …

  • Martin Pierce 23rd Nov '12 - 8:22am

    Bit of a waste of breath this article – no target in Energy Bill. Another Lib Dem triumph

  • Tom Snowdon 23rd Nov '12 - 8:34am

    In order to get predictable renewable energy, the government should be pushing hard for tidal stream generation.

  • jenny barnes 23rd Nov '12 - 8:52am

    OP? Q? UNQ? Original Poster Quote, Unquote. and the … is an ellipsis,
    When I try to use double quotes on this site it goes wrong.

  • I note that this government has just given energy companies the right to triple price increases in order to invest in the future. We already have high levels of fuel poverty. Our energy future in truth needs proper investment without the increased cost being passed on to customers who already can’t really pay their current bills.
    The problem at the moment is a fetish for big global sounding initiatives mixing with a dogmatic belief in a reduced level of government involvement..

  • Before we dash for gas, or anything else for that matter, just take a dash around your home and garage. Pick up anything and everything, that has a three pin plug on it, and ask ” Do I really NEED this…….. pressure washer, leaf blower, electric can opener, hair straighteners/curlers, bread maker, 3in1 (doodah), with useful attachments ! …………….. ?”
    When I coyly broached the subject with my neighbour, about his newly acquired leaf blower, he informed me proudly, and without a trace of irony, that the amount of time and effort, it saved him, meant that he could get down to the gym sooner.
    Just sayin,… maybe we should try to make a dash for less ‘stuff’, then we might not have to dash for quite as much gas, nor turn the North Sea into an equally unsustainable, Propellor-ville.

  • “Another Lib Dem triumph”

    It is indeed, according to John Leech’s blog:

  • Simon McGrath.
    I think that because it ‘s a massive infrastructure project its a civic responsibility to proved public funding.. Energy is also heavily taxed so customers are already paying to both the government and the private sector. Energy in Britain is also incredibly expensive as is fuel. A lot of the reason for this is tax.

  • Fracking is an environmental disaster. I challenge anybody to watch ‘Gaslands’ – a film on Fracking in the United States and not come up with that conclusion.

    Companies pump a proprietary mixture into the ground that pollutes and contaminates the water table. Like Colonel Sanders Kentucky friend chicken mix, what exactly is pumped into the ground is hidden under Corporate rules. This will affect farmland and adversely affect peoples health. Also, remember that it is only a short time ago, the country had large scale drought and water restrictions. The earthquake / land slippage risk is there but that is a red herring.
    The fracking companies will not be responsible for the damage to the environment, or the ill health that they cause people. Similar to nuclear, the state will have to pay for the clean up and people the cost. Those that propose fracking as an answer to our energy problems ignore the costs.
    Similarly nuclear power has always been heavily subsidised and the costs of reccycling of nuclear waste is not presented as part of the whole cost.

    No Fracking, which is a terrible, short sighted and expensive answer to Britain’s energy security.
    I challenge you to watch Gasland and still think that Fracking is a good idea for the people of this country.

  • @Liberal Eye
    Interesting link, however for a UK perspective, I suggest a better link and quote is:
    “The last estimate by BGS [British Geological Survey] put UK onshore shale reserves at 5.3 trillion cubic feet (150 billion cubic metres), which would be enough to meet its gas consumption for one and a half years.”
    [ ]

  • @Liberal Eye
    I suspect there is a bit of the windfarm marketing mentality in the exploration firms – namely publish the theoretical maximum output and quietly ignore what may be the actual output, which is what the British Geological Survey is trying to determine.

    Hence the factors used by the British Geological Survey to calculate Resource Estimates and to convert these into Reserve Estimates are critical; let us hope they stand up to scrutiny, because this really does make a difference as to whether shale gas becomes a significant part of the UK’s fuel supply or just a boutique provider.

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