We’re running out of energy

The Infrastructure Planning Commission is much more important than it sounds.

Depending on your point of view, it is either a] an undemocratic body which will impose unwelcome nuclear power stations and wind farms on unhappy villagers or b] the only way to prevent the lights going out in 10 years’ time.

One day it could be a case study in utilitarianism. Who should have the final say – the small minority or the big majority?

It’s a major issue because the IPC is about to start work. But the Tories would scrap it next year. Their argument is that such schemes can get built; companies just need to work harder to turn “nimbies” into supporters.

The counter-argument is that time is running out. Ironically, it was Greg Clark in the chamber this afternoon who kept repeating the phrase: “Why did they leave it so late?“. (A report this summer suggested power outages by 2017 the way things are going).

Well yes, it is Labour’s fault that we are in this situation. The dirtiest coal power stations will have to be closed in the run-up to 2015. Many nuclear power stations have less than a decade before they are wound down. And still UK renewables lag behind all EU countries bar Malta and Luxembourg (as this blog has mentioned before).

But if the British public won’t embrace more power – while demanding 24/7 energy supplies – surely the time has come for some form of compulsion? Even if that means angering environmental groups* and others? On this Labour seems to have a more practical policy than the Tories.

Ed Miliband, energy secretary, tried to make the case, gingerly, this afternoon: “Saying no everywhere will not be in the national interest,” he said.

The Tory approach is to let the secretary of state make individual rulings on schemes – subject to today’s national policy statements, released by the secretary of state. Therein could lie the potential for even more judicial reviews.

There is no doubt that business groups are worried about the Tory policy, as my colleagues wrote here.

The Institute of Directors said today:

“The establishment of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the consultations on today’s national policy statements are important steps towards reducing these costly delays while preserving the democratic accountability that is properly part of the planning process. Now that the new regime is getting under way, it is important that nothing should be done to hinder the IPC’s ability to deliver quicker decisions on key infrastructure projects.”

*I know that Friends of the Earth and others want a more democratic system. But if the IPC delivers much-needed wind farms isn’t that the better of two evils?