I speculated this month somewhat idly on whether the UK or US energy secretary would be the first to quit his post. Many in the gossipy world of Westminster politics are betting on an imminent departure of Chris Huhne. But after one of the stormiest weekends of his political life, it is difficult to say whether he is now stronger or weaker.
The story that might yet kill Huhne’s political career, at least in the short term, is entirely non energy-related. Police are considering whether to investigate claims that he asked another person to take driving penalty points on his behalf for a speeding offence. He denies any wrongdoing.
The UK government has a big decision to make next week: whether to endorse the proposals by the Committee on Climate Change to set stringent emissions reductions targets for 2030.
The so-called “fourth carbon budget” (the other three have already been made policy) sets out that the UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent on 1990 levels by 2030.
Chris Huhne (pictured on the left), the energy secretary, is broadly in favour, having put tackling climate change at the heart of his department’s agenda. But he is facing resistance from an unexpected source: his Lib Dem cabinet colleague Vince Cable (on the right).
Amid the increasingly rancorous debate on voting reform in the UK, one of the most vociferous figures in the campaign for the alternative vote system has been the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, architect of the electricity market reform package.
His clashes with his “no” voting Conservative cabinet colleagues has reached such intensity that some commentators are speculating about whether he could be ready to quit the government altogether.
The numbers from today’s report by the Carbon Trust into the potential of marine energy are impressive.
According to the report, the total global market for wave and tidal could be worth up to £40bn per annum by 2050. UK companies could realistically capture around 22 per cent, or £76bn, of the total market theoretically accessible to them, the report concludes, generating 68,000 jobs in the process.
But before green campaigners in the UK jump with joy, there are a number of conditions attached to these projections, not least of which is the idea that other renewable sources have to suffer in order for marine energy to snatch this much market share.
The group of UK solar companies behind the campaign against the reduction of the subsidies for larger projects has asked the courts to quash the government’s review altogether.
Greg Barker, energy minister, announced in March that the government intended to cut the level of public subsidy for large solar farms after a brief review of feed-in tariffs.
The companies have filed a claim in the High Court for judicial review against Chris Huhne, energy secretary, and hope they can get the energy department to start all over again on the process of deciding which projects get which subsidies.
The groups have included four arguments in their case:
- The energy department previously indicated that the review would take place in 2012, with changes being implemented in 2013.
- There was a suggestion that an early review could take place based on a certain “trigger point”, but that trigger point was never set.
- There is no evidence of the “excessive deployment” of large-scale solar power about which the energy department warns.
- Large-scale solar is more cost effective, and so reducing subsidies at the larger end to balance the cost to the consumer doesn’t make sense.
George Osborne reiterated today the UK government’s “determination to be the greenest government ever”. But given what we already knew, most of the new information contained in Wednesday’s Budget seems to be set against that agenda.
Let’s take the measures one-by-one:
1) CCS support. We already knew that £1bn was pledged for round one. The new information in the Budget is that round two will be funded largely by the carbon floor price.
But as Mr Osborne himself admitted, this won’t be enough (at least at the level it has been set) on its own. Further money will be required from general taxation, which leaves second round CCS projects fighting alongside everything else for a rapidly diminishing pool of government spending.
David Cameron may regret saying he wanted the coalition to be the “greenest government ever”. Not because he didn’t mean it, but because as ministers strive to keep to the tough spending allowances granted by the Treasury, it is an aim that seems to be slipping further and further away.
The last week has seen a slew of announcements that appear to signal a retreat by the government from its green ideals. Firstly, we had the cut to solar subsidies in the form of the feed-in tariff.
Officials at the energy department claim the changes to the feed-in tariff are primarily aimed at redistributing the money away from large-scale solar farms and towards households and small businesses, rather than cutting it. But if this was the case, the amount of money that had been cut from large producers would surely have been recycled in the form of higher subsidies for smaller ones.
The 60,000 people on the streets of Stuttgart this weekend protesting about Germany’s plans to extend the lives of ten nuclear power plants should leave the energy world in no doubt that events in Japan will have an impact on the nuclear industry everywhere.
Soon after the first explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday, politicians have been hurriedly backtracking on their commitments to the nuclear industry.
In the US, Senator Joe Lieberman told CBS’ Face the Nation:
I don’t want to stop the building of nuclear power plants. But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put, the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming online.
The row about UK solar feed-in tariffs rumbles on. This morning, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne tried to persuade people in the South West that solar subsidies should not go to the kind of large-scale solar farms that are being developed in that part of the country.
His words seemed to back some of the arguments used by large-scale solar developers, who are up in arms about the government’s move. Firstly, even though the government is only announcing a review of which projects are eligible for subsidies, Huhne seems to have prejudged its outcome:
A 5MW solar farm could deny around 1500 homes from claiming FITs for solar panels on their roofs… At the moment the risk is, if we don’t deal with the excesses, then the whole thing will come grinding to a halt.
Another day, another complaint about the carbon floor price. This controversial policy has united an unlikely alliance of green campaigners and heavy industry in opposition.
Greens don’t like it because it benefits the nuclear industry, while manufacturers are disgruntled about having to pay more for electricity.
But Greenpeace and WWF had a legitimate claim that government policy was incoherent – on the one hand promising no subsidies to nuclear power but at the same time implementing a policy that could indeed earn such generators billions of pounds. The EEF, which represents manufacturers, on the other hand, is criticising the energy department for doing exactly what it intends to do: push up the cost of energy.