Editorial: Another tug at Britain’s unravelling energy plan

Three Energy ministers in only seven months does not inspire investor confidence

Share

It was a mere seven months ago that John Hayes was parachuted into the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Out went Charles Hendry – a Conservative esteemed by his pro-green Liberal Democrat colleagues. In came an avowed opponent of wind farms, as part of a reshuffle that attempted to head off criticism from the Tory back benches by tilting the Government noticeably more to the right.

Now Mr Hayes has been moved again. Not because of the dysfunctional relationship that swiftly developed between him and his Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, Ed Davey. Rather, because David Cameron needs Mr Hayes’ parliamentary popularity in Downing Street, to help woo that same, ever-growing cadre of MPs from whom he is so dangerously estranged.

The Prime Minister’s struggle to retain control of his party is a cause for some concern. The rebellious right are gaining disproportionate influence, forcing, for example, a promise of a referendum on Europe, and an increasingly incendiary tone on immigration. Yet each concession only encourages demands for more. And reports suggest that more than half of the no-confidence letters needed to trigger a leadership contest have already been submitted. With local elections looming – and the humiliation of coming third behind Ukip in Eastleigh auguring badly – Mr Cameron’s appointment of Mr Hayes as his senior parliamentary adviser starts to look like panic.

Meanwhile, at the energy department, the ideological logjam will likely continue. Mr Hayes’ replacement is a more emollient character, so the tensions over renewables policy may be less public. But if Michael Fallon’s views are closer to those of his staunchly pro-renewables Secretary of State than his predecessor’s were, they are only slightly so. Indeed, Mr Fallon is not only a right-wing heavyweight, keen to put business first. He is also a key ally of the Chancellor, whose enthusiasm for environmentalism faded fast on his arrival at the Treasury and who is now an active proponent of shale gas, considered by many as an alternative to wind farms.

More telling still is that Mr Fallon will retain his existing job, as a minister in the Department for Business, alongside his new one. Yet it is not as if the Energy minister’s role is a soft option – particularly not now. With demand for electricity ever rising, a fifth of Britain’s dirty and obsolete power stations slated to close in the years ahead, and a legal requirement that near a third of electricity come from renewables by 2020, the energy department faces the ferocious task of keeping Britain’s lights on, and at a price we can afford to pay.

The Coalition’s energy strategy has the right constituents. Ageing coal-fired plants are to be replaced by wind farms, nuclear and some new gas, with the £110bn investment (all of it from the private sector) underpinned by a Byzantine collection of subsidies and floor prices. But the plans are in danger of descending into disarray. Only one company, EDF, is still committed to building new atomic reactors, and funding rows are causing delays before work has even begun. Spats over wind farms between Mr Davey and Mr Hayes, coupled with uncertainty over George Osborne’s gas strategy, are a drag on investment in renewables. And all this against the backdrop of far-reaching – and unforeseen – changes in the global market, as the implications of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the US shale gas boom play out.

The challenges are formidable. Yet we have a third Energy minister in seven months, and only half a one at that. That Mr Cameron’s backbenchers are proving so intractable is disquieting enough. Another spasm of uncertainty affecting Britain’s energy strategy is worse.

 

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect