Few are so cross as the politician who is losing an argument. This might explain the eruption of anger by that most mild-mannered of ministers, Ed Davey. At a conference on rainforests convened by the Prince of Wales at Clarence House yesterday, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary laid into those who object to the Government’s insistence that consumers must be made to switch to renewable forms of energy, regardless of cost.
Davey accused such opponents of “destructive and loudly clamouring scepticism born of vested interest, nimbyism, publicity-seeking controversialism or sheer blinkered, dogmatic, political bloody-mindedness”. In this, he was echoing his royal host’s remarks a few weeks back that such people were “corporate lobbyists” turning the Earth into “a dying patient”.
Some cynics will argue that Davey’s tirade was designed to appease Greens furious that he is not backing the amendment to the Energy Bill by Tim Yeo: the Tory chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change committee is proposing a much higher rate of emissions reduction. Yeo, at least, is not as hysterical as the heir to the throne. Last week, he admitted that: “The first thing is to say that climate change does not represent any threat to the survival of the planet. None at all.” Indeed, last month the journal Geophysical Research Letters published a paper based on study of satellite photographs of the driest regions of North America, the Middle East and parts of Africa, which found that foliage had increased by 11 per cent over the past 30 years. The scientists behind the research argue that this could have been a direct result of increased CO2 emissions. What else would you expect from something called “The Greenhouse effect”?
No, the issue is not the planet: it is a question of what is in the interests of those living on it. The way Davey tells it, all those on the other side of the argument from him and Prince Charles are just representatives of vested interests and corporate lobbyists, while those pushing to have the country and the coastline covered by wind turbines are motivated purely by disinterested concern for the national welfare.
This is amusing. Tim Yeo himself has been receiving handy sums of money from Green energy companies – Eco City and TMO Renewables, for example. Last year alone (we know this from his declaration of interests), Yeo took more than £135,000 from such firms. Meanwhile, his like-minded colleague in the House of Lords, the former Tory Environment Secretary John Gummer, now the head of the “independent” Committee on Climate Change, was until very recently chairman of Forewind, a business dedicated to the construction of the world’s largest offshore wind farm, in the North Sea. That job has now been seamlessly taken on by another Tory MP, Charles Hendry, who until last year was a minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
If it still isn’t sinking in, cast your eye over the list of organisations which yesterday called on MPs to vote for Yeo’s amendment to the Energy Bill. They include the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, the Solar Trade Association and the Renewable Energy Association. These are all trade lobbyists, increasingly anxious about the future of the vast public subsidies on which their business model depends.
They are right to be anxious. Last month, the European Commission intimated that it would no longer put up with the way Germany – the leader of renewable energy on the Continent—had been giving its industrial users exemption from the true cost of using “clean” electricity. As Spiegel reported: “Owners of wind and solar farms were paid about €14bn last year alone, the difference between the guaranteed price and the proceeds actually achieved… The scenario outlined by the European Energy Commissioner [of demanding repayment of the subsidy] is a horrifying one. The competitiveness of entire industrial sectors would be put at risk.”
As Ed Davey has surely noticed, the European Commission, previously the driving force behind renewable energy targets, has suddenly become transfixed by the competitive challenge from the US, where the development of low-cost shale gas has transformed the industrial landscape: last month, the Commission President, Jose Barroso, warned EU leaders that they were at joint and several risk of seeing their countries’ industries migrate across the Atlantic.
Happily, the UK seems to be sitting on vast reserves of shale gas – the Bowland shale in Lancashire is about five times as thick as the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, where the recent US gas boom started. Oddly, the Government seems reluctant to celebrate this: it was left to one of the new companies in the field to point out yesterday that between 25,000 and 40,000 jobs could be created directly in producing this indigenous resource. But it also made a much more important point, which differentiates this sort of investment from that in wind farms: “it could underpin several hundred thousand jobs” in energy intensive industries.
The Green movement and its supporters in Westminster and St James’s tend to describe their opponents as “ideological”. Yet no one is objecting to renewable energy on principle. Those who are opposing Davey’s Energy Bill do so because they see no good in making poor households poorer or in driving manufacturing industry to the US or China. You wouldn’t necessarily expect the Prince of Wales to understand that. But politicians should know better: unless, of course, they have a vested interest.