Oh George, we marvel at how you consistently manage to spout something new and controversial, almost on a daily basis. You really are a character I don’t think people will be forgetting for some time to come, be that for better (unlikely) or for worse. So what has he done now? That’s if you haven’t already stumbled across the latest gobsmackingly stupid comment from the man who has simultaneously managed to upset both the wider public, most of the UK government including his own Party (22% of Tory’s voted for him out in a recent poll), the EU and most of the powerful energy industry players out there, and all roughly within a week or two. Amazing.
Mr. Osborne has now begun referring to those within Parliament who are campaigning for greener futures and a strong climate agenda as the ‘environmental Taliban’, in a stunningly short-sighted comment no doubt directed at Ed Davey and his keen followers, who in most cases are the majority of the public who know a thing or two about clean energy. It would seem that environmentalists have now moved on from being a Satanic cult (no joke, this was a real thing said by a real US political speaker) worshipping the devil that is the Earth/Gaia, and are now a group of radicals akin to dangerous terrorists. And he’s Chancellor of the Exchequer? Satan save us.
This name-calling comes at a very sensitive period for the entirety of UK energy policy, which is, for lack of a better phrase, a complete shambles, primarily driven by Osborne and his cohort of Tory followers who variously are either anti-wind, solar or renewables, and pro-offshore and fracking. Even if he meant the ‘Taliban’ reference as a joke, there will undoubtedly be people out there who do not take it so, and by extending his terminology to environmentalists as a whole, he’s including a huge number of people who believe climate change is real, we are responsible for the majority and that low-carbon is the only real solution. Hence why protests and Twitter campaigns such as #greenisworking have exploded in favour of condemning his actions (I’ve even seen one called #killgeorgeosborne, which is a likelihood seeming ever more likely…).
According to reports, the comment came as Ed Davey desperately attempts to push through a binding emissions cap on power plants for 2030, as well as clarifying legislation on the approaching switch to ‘contracts for difference’, a policy which aims to lock in value for renewable projects and promote low-carbon development, with the Treasury fronting the responsibility of guaranteeing support. Of course, Osborne doesn’t like this idea, and is rapidly becoming an aura of clean-tech skepticism and a loss of interest in decarbonising the grid, and as many fear, a reflection of the general Tory party backbench’s opinion.
Instead, Osborne has long rallied for a ‘dash for gas’, whereby abundances in domestic natural shale gas could be exploited to lower energy costs and secure resources for the future, a notion no doubt triggered by the explosion in gas extraction and a tumbling in energy costs over in America. While the idea of energy security and low costs are his way of appealing to a nation where 9% gas bill hikes are almost common place and keeping the house lit is becoming increasingly painful on the wallet, there are some rather major flaws in his plan.
Namely, the idea of reducing costs dramatically is likely to be wildly overblown. Having spoken to industry experts working on grid policy recently, there seems an academic, economic and policy consensus that falling gas prices in America will in no way be replicated over here in Europe, as the market is just not of the same scale or stability; prices may fall slightly, but nothing on the scale of the US. Secondly, fracking is known to be a detrimental process to the environment and health, can cost silly amounts and in simple terms, does not avoid the issue of carbon emission whatsoever. Switching from oil to gas might be a smart move for countries such as China or India, where renewable energy is still getting going and coal dominates the energy mix, but over here, where proven wind and solar resources are rife, it makes no sense at all.
In fact, and this I find particularly eyeopening, DECC published a report recently stating that if the UK was to go ahead with Osborne’s gas plan, it would 100% fail at meeting its emission targets set for 2020, an action which in effect is illegal, and could result in serious fines from the EU, which we are in no position to pay.
Going further still, Mr. Osborne was directly informed by the ‘Big Six’ energy companies which dominate over 95% of the UK market, that if he pursued his plans for stifling green development, the government would be seeing no more investment or interaction from them unless other measures were taken. In effect, Osborne was slapped on the wrists by some of the most powerful companies in the energy debate, risking a huge portion of our power capacity. I found that quite funny I must say. The EU separately waved an angry finger at the Tory Party when it stated how unhelpful their ‘untrue’ claims over green legislation were, and that continuing to diminish the green agenda would prove most unsatisfactory for all involved.
One of the main points berated by the opposition in Osborne’s energy plan is the cap on renewable subsidies and levies supplied to new green projects, which would effectively ration out government aid and seriously thin out the multiple wind, solar and tidal plans in motion. You don’t have to look far to see how uncertainty in these markets can kill an industry; think of the wind PTC in America. With the tax up for renewal and no clear signs of a decision, big wind companies are cutting jobs in the thousands as projects become increasingly uncertain. Considering how terribly we as a nation are doing towards our renewable targets (15% by 2015, currently ~4%), this sort of approach is like running at the cliff edge blindfolded.
It’s almost like Osborne and his fellow Parliamentary members are actively ignoring the advice of DECC, Ofgem and similar organisations, whose soul job is to research and inform on the best directions for energy policy, and yet they’re data falls on utterly deaf ears.
And just to top all of this madness off, Cameron decides to throw the energy supplier market into chaos by announcing, literally out of the blue, that companies will be forced to provide the lowest energy tariff to customers. Not only do analysts think this will kill what’s left of market competition, but he didn’t state whether this was one tariff for everybody or company-specific, how this would be implemented or why nobody knew about it beforehand. It seems even his own party can’t answer media questions, as they know about as much as we do.
I for one, am thinking of moving to Germany, or maybe even China, where energy policy is as clear as crystal compared to the oil-thick stupidity of the current Tory stance; but then again, I might miss another one of George Osborne’s cracking comments.