The long-awaited Energy Bill, the subject of the worst in-fighting within the Coalition, is to be unveiled finally in this next week – barring further disruptions to the temporary ceasefire. There are two central issues that matter in this Bill. Will it enable Britain to de-carbonise the electricity supply sector by 2030, without which we will not be able to meet our carbon emissions reduction target of an 80% cut by 2050? And will the central thrust of the Bill be towards a renewables future driven by a major uplift in feed-in tariffs or is it framed to provide a massive hidden subsidy to nuclear? The Bill fails on both counts.
It seems clear that Davey lost his battle with Osborne over removing carbon from electricity supply by 2030. Osborne, fanatically opposed to green (except for Arctic snaps with huskies to dupe a gullible public), has consolidated the dash for gas which will turn out ever more expensive, lose an enormous number of new jobs (estimated at a quarter of a million by 2030), and perhaps fatally undermine Britain’s climate change goals.
Even more disturbingly, the Bill’s real key (though well-camouflaged) objective is to lay the foundations for a new round of nuclear build. All but one of the bidders for the proposed nuclear renaissance have pulled out, partly because of the ever-rising cost of building a new reactor (now around £8bn), partly because of the huge expense of waste management and decommissioning, and not least because the costs of insuring against a major nuclear accident are prohibitively expensive if not uninsurable. The government have therefore inserted into the Bill the curiously named ‘contracts for difference’ which are meant to provide the crucial price guarantee that nuclear operators demand as a condition before they are prepared to enter the bidding process.
What is even more significant about dropping the 2030 de-carbonisation target is that it is the first time that a recommendation by the independent expert Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official advisers, has been rejected. And the knock-on impact on employment will be severe. There are already up to a million working in the UK green economy, one of the few fast-growing sectors, and some 10,000 further jobs were already marked up for new offshore wind turbine assembly. At a time when jobs and growth are at a premium, it is ironic to say the least that the best chance for expansion has been so indecently cast aside.