Friday, 2 November 2012

Are Tories anti 'bourgeois left' or just anti-green?

John Hayes comment that he does not take any notice of 'bourgeois left wing academics' (surely not referring to people like me!) may be a superficial, amusing quip, but it obscures a deeper truth - that the Conservative Party has effectively abandoned the green agenda. Although David Cameron appeared to contain Hayes' anti windfarm comments Cameron in fact said that the issue of capping windfarm development would be reviewed when the windfarm deployment targets are met. In other words a windfarm deployment cap is still very firmly on the Tory agenda. Despite Greg Barker's attempts at greenwash pr, he has presided over a massive cut in support for energy efficiency compared to the programme established by Labour.

When you put that together with the fact that the Conservatives want to pay nuclear power developers a lot more than onshore wind developers (indeed give them a blank cheque if John Hayes could get away with it) you can see that there is very clear blue water now between the Conservatives and the other main parties on green energy. With the exception, of course, of the very anti-windfarm UKIP to which the Conservatives feel they are now heavily beholden!

Yes, Labour led the charge on a supposed nuclear rennaisance from 2006 onwards, but the point is that they never actually did anything that would be crucial to bringing it about. Now I don't want to excuse their weakness in pandering to the nuclear lobby for one minute, but their policy of not offering significant extra payments to new nuclear power did ensure that the superfically pro-nuclear policy remained as just hot air. Yet now the Conservatives, having bullied the Liberal Democrats into accepting a plan to subsidise nuclear power (in all but name), threaten to hand the nuclear industry large quantities of consumers' energy bills to fund nuclear power stations instead of renewables.

The Treasury (led by George Osborne who wants to keep the anti-windfarm lobby from snapping at his heels) are insisting on a strict cap on spending on 'low carbon' sources - called the 'levy control framework'. So any money that nuclear gets will be deducted from the amount available for renewable energy. As argued in the last blog paying nuclear around £100 per MWh is uncompetitive on economic grounds compared to not only onshore wind but also offshore wind and solar pv. Remember even if the headline 'strike prices' are much the same for solar, offshore wind and nuclear, the renewables end up being much cheaper since the nuclear constructors will be given much longer contracts, 25-30 years, compared to renewables which are slated to be given 15 year contracts. So nuclear, at a 30 year contract will cost the electricity consumer TWICE as much as for a renewable source at the same strike price on a 15 year contract. And then there are the decommissioning and nuclear waste charges being funded by the Treasury to be taken into account......

Of course onshore wind, under a feed-in tariff regime (as opposed to the more uncertain Renewables Obligation) will lead to windfarm being given only around £80 per MWh for 15 year contracts under plans being considered. What sort of competition is that when nuclear power gets around £100 a MWh for 25-30 year contracts? In fact the public would much more prefer to pay onshore wind £100 per MWh (and we'd get a lot more windfarms at the higher price) than pay near that level to nuclear power!

But then the Tories are out of step with public opinion. If they listened to public opinion then nuclear would get less of a subsidy than onshore wind power, not more! (preferably none of course). As I have said, the Tories have lost possession of any significant part of the green agenda to Labour, Lib Dems, and of course the Green Party. Note that the Green Party is the only one that is unambiguously pro-wind and solar and anti-nuclear.

And yet the Lib Dems have to get Ed Davey to work harder to retrieve their claim to have a handle on the green agenda themselves. An important start in that process would be to make sure that nuclear do not get offered a higher 'strike price' than onshore wind!

And, a last comment on this post, nuclear power is hardly a 'working class' fuel compared to onshore wind power since the poor people are going to have to pay rather higher bills to support nuclear than onshore wind - according to government plans! So who has 'bourgeois' interests in mind? John Hayes, I am sure.

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