Editorial: All power to the Energy Secretary


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The Independent Online

That the Chancellor is not wholly committed to the Prime Minister's erstwhile promise of "the greenest government ever" has long been supposed. Now, undercover footage shows two notably anti-green Tories – one of them George Osborne's father-in-law – claiming that the Chancellor is actively manoeuvring to ensure environmental concerns take a back seat.

Allowances must be made for wishful thinking. But, taken together with the appointments of the wind farm opponent John Hayes as Energy minister and climate change sceptic Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary, and with Mr Osborne's own dismissive allusions to the "environmental Taliban", the words of Lord Howell and Peter Lilley ring sadly true.

Pity Ed Davey, then. The Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary not only has Mr Hayes to contend with. He is also wrestling with legislation that will radically reshape Britain's energy sector. With a fifth of power-generating capacity to be turned off within 10 years, and £110bn more needed to keep the lights on, it could not be more important to get the details right. But Mr Davey and Mr Osborne cannot agree.

The Energy Secretary wants the Bill to commit Britain to entirely carbon-free electricity by 2030. Without such a pledge, he says, the necessary investment in newer, greener technologies will not be made. The Chancellor is not only wary of a fixed target; he is also a firm believer in shale gas, and wants a higher proportion of cheaper, gas-fired power stations to keep down customer bills.

Mr Osborne's popularity with the anti-wind-farm lobby is, therefore, understandable. But he is still wrong. Even leaving aside questions about the practicalities of shale gas, his plan would make little real difference to bills in the short term. And in the long term, we would still need zero-carbon alternatives.

Energy policy is rarely easy. Faced with opposition from the Chancellor, Mr Davey's challenge is trickier than ever. It is in Britain's interests that he wins the battle.