‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,’ cries a anguished Job in the eponymous book of the Bible.
Swap the Lord for energy secretary Chris Huhne, divine providence for the Government’s new Annual Energy Statement, and the patient Job for a good environmental citizen, and you will come close to the experience of trying to digest the slew of policies, figures and analysis in the latest missive from the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Huhne starts by whetting our appetite for renewable energy. Rolling out smart meters, committing to subsidise low carbon forms of heating, accelerating the roll-out of offshore wind turbines, a renewed drive to turn biomass waste (poo, food waste, etc) into energy.
And then the Lord taketh away.
‘The low carbon economy must happen, but it will not happen tomorrow,’ Huhne told Parliament. ‘There are potentially twenty billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining in the UK Continental Shelf...we must maximise economic production while applying effective environmental and safety regulations.’
Ah yes, the continental shelf. How could we have forgotten? Then he begins to rain manna again. He promises to bolster the carbon price, introducing measures to stop it yo-yo-ing around like some fiscal toy and keep it at levels that might actually lead to confidence for those looking to build renewable energy technologies.
And then you stop to think about what other motives the Government might have for raising the carbon price. One of them comes in the shape of a particularly emotionally-charged word: nuclear.
From an officially ambivalent position on nuclear power in the early to mid-noughties, the Government (both past and present flavours) has now moved to adopt a position towards the technology which, if it were a person, is akin to kneeling on the floor of the marketplace with its hands outstretched in supplication. Yet still, the industry has not been particularly forthcoming with offers to build new power stations, at least, not on the scale desired.
So whilst promising absolutely not to subsidise nuclear power, the Government is instead offering to pump up the carbon price (making nuclear power relatively more attractive as an investment), and also working ‘to ensure that there is a supply chain and skills base in place to enable new nuclear to happen’. It’s not a subsidy, but it’s sure as heck a greased runway.
Finally, the Government promises to continue its push for stricter EU carbon reduction limits, raising the bar from a 20 per cent cut by 2020 to 30 per cent. And yet, in announcing the policy, Huhne was forced to admit that the UK faces ‘short-term challenges’ to meet its own fairly meagre targets for 15 per cent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. A case of do as I say and not as I do?