Monday’s announcement about the development of a nuclear facility in Somerset is certainly something to be welcomed. Having seen more than a decade of inaction and indecision, investment in energy facilities that will help keep the lights on is an unequivocally good thing.
Yet, how is it that Labour is making so much of the running on energy policy? Was it not, afterall, Ed Miliband who did so little about energy when he had the chance as Secretary of State? Is it not down to him, in part, that we are attached to nonsensically over-ambitious carbon reduction targets which have created the context for high energy prices and an irrational obsession with inefficient renewable technologies? Is it not fair to ascribe the absence of effective competition to the consolidation of the market to the ‘big six’ under his watch?
Of course, the answer to those questions is an unequivocal ‘yes’. In many respects, Labour has created the chaos in energy policy, and the threat to security of supply can be laid squarely at their door. And the knee-jerk headline-grabbing rhetoric about freezing prices is so laden with qualifications and impracticalities that it will offer no solace to those households struggling to keep up with rising prices. A mess does need to be cleared up, and Mr Miliband can claim no moral high ground in finding a solution.
But the Coalition’s record has not been one to offer much encouragement until recently. Labour’s bequeathed orthodoxy was embraced by over-zealous Liberal Democrat ministers, and taken to new levels of damage.
As I intimated today in a question to the Prime Minister, to allow the pursuit of carbon reduction to dominate a debate which should have been focused on security of supply and innovation is unacceptable. Attached to technologies whose viability is questionable, we have not done enough to facilitate adequate levels of innovation; the industry has sat back and waited for government subsidies, so typical of those ministerial fads which need support. Those brave Conservative ministers within the department who have tried to stand up for common sense, have been undermined and moved on; and the Huhne legacy has been allowed to dominate to the nations cost.
I hope that this week’s announcement sparks the renewal of a new generation of energy investment and innovation – something depressed by the Labour-Liberal Democrat focus on renewables and decarbonisation at any price. We should be embracing new technologies, such as carbon capture & storage, but, above all looking in the first instance to keep the lights on at affordable prices. Beyond that, industry-led innovation is far more likely to deliver de-carbonisation quicker than a situation where ministers pretend to have all the answers.
If that is to be the way forward, then we should all be delighted. But with the current Liberal political leadership on energy policy, I fear that the uphill struggle will continue – but it is worth the effort.