There are an almost endless number of perks to being a student at Imperial College, and in particular one studying the environmental and energy sciences, not least the free wine nights held ‘traditionally’ every Thursday night after a guest talk. However, this week’s treat was one of a slightly higher and more professional calibre - a talk by the recently crowned energy minister of state at DECC, John Hayes, the man leading the ‘greenest party ever’ forward unto the dawn.
I was unashamedly quite excited about this guest spot, as not only was it to be my first experience with a powerful politician in a public speaking environment, but it was also a man who was directly responsible for much of what I define as my most passionate of interests and enjoyments, the energy debate, and within that, the UK’s shambles of an attempt. So with this confidence, and of course a rather large expectation for something to annoy/anger/depress being said, I went to watch him speak to an audience of students, professionals, politicians and interested parties yesterday evening. The focus of the topic? The changing UK energy supply. Fascinating and current stuff for sure.
Unfortunately, it was not to be the case. Not only did I come out the talk feeling let down, disappointed, confused and kinda angry at the whole thing, but these feelings were far stronger than I thought I would experience going in. Politics never fails to surprise eh.
From start to finish, John Hayes, a man who recently replaced the much-loved by all (even greenies) Charles Hendry from an utterly un-environmentally linked background, gave us a masterclass in dodging the elephants in the room, not answering questions but doing enough to move on and being wholly like a Tory politician should be; funny in a way which boils the blood and patronisingly cocky at the same time.
When he finally stumbled onto the topic of energy sources and generation, with me believing at one point that he was never going to mention the words ‘sustainable’, ‘renewable’ or ‘climate change’, it was a speech filled with techno-political babble and attempts at covering everything possible with as little information as possible. He screamed past the likes of biomass production, solar PV and onshore wind without even mentioning offshore or tidal, focusing on the topic long enough to merely list their names, avoiding going into any deep, or even shallow conversation in regards to deployment, costs, future developments or the coalition’s stance. It was all behind us in a matter of seconds and yet it couldn’t have been more of an important topic when debating energy supply.
He only delved into onshore wind briefly when he wanted to point out, in a manner I felt similar to veiled hostility, that he had called for investigations into their costs and effectiveness, and to how best the communities affected by their development could be compensated. Of course, he was basically saying that he wasn’t prepared to talk at any length about them unless he was 100% sure they didn’t piss people off or ruin the countryside. Seems his anti-wind stance people had hoped he had dropped was still living on.
CCS, nuclear and natural gas, spiced up with some North Sea offshore drilling then became the main subjects of conversation, with each one generously fleshed out and described in a detail which was rarely employed anywhere else in his entire talk.