Contentious Energy Bill May Be Secret Victory for UK Renewables

Robin Hood Tax/CC BY 2.0

The other day, I reported on the new UK energy bill, arguing that while increased support for renewables was encouraging, its "all-of-the-above" approach to flood-ravaged Britain's energy future was ultimately unsustainable as it left the door open for a contentious "dash for gas".

James Murray over at Business Green, however—whose call for a New Environmentalism is about as clear headed a rethink of the green movement as I have read in a long time—argues that the legislation is a much more positive development than it might first appear. Yes, he acknowledges, fuzziness over long-term decarbonization targets are a disappointment. But in the cantankerous political environment of the current ruling coalition, Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey may have won a politically savvy victory against those who would buy time for fossil fuels:

But speaking to several energy industry insiders there is a dawning realisation Davey might have played a very clever hand in his negotiations with the Treasury. By getting a commitment to revisit the decarbonisation target in 2016 he almost has a decarbonisation target by proxy given no gas developer can have any confidence that new restrictions won't come into effect in the next parliament. [...]

As a prospective investor, where would you put your money? In renewables or nuclear projects with CfD guaranteed financial returns and unequivocal support from the Lib Dems, Labour, and many Tories, or in gas projects where returns are at the whim of global gas markets and the likelihood is that new legislative restrictions could be placed on the facility well before the end of its natural life.

Murray's piece is important, not just for the insight it gives into the complex political landscape in the UK right now. As Alex Steffen made clear in his interview about zero carbon cities, we greens must keep pushing for truly realistic policy decisions—which must include a short- to medium-term shift to 100% renewables.

Absent of a political consensus on such ambitious moves, however, we must maintain a politically savvy carrot-and-stick understanding of what steps are likely to get us there. That means slamming politicians when they fail to live up to their rhetoric (think Obama and his big fat carbon bombs), but also making sure that when those who are on our side win important battles in the overall war, they gain some actual political capital as a reward.

Tags: Activism | Global Warming Solutions | Natural Gas | Renewable Energy | United Kingdom