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

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000

£34000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Bus...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - eCommerce - OTE £100k

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Training and Development Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This software development organisation are loo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: We Are Not Syriza; and the riddle of an imitation Sphinx in China

John Rentoul
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable