Government kicks clean electricity into the long grass

Posted by Richardg — 23 November 2012 at 5:39pm - Comments
Giant energy bill outside Centrica offices
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
Giant energy bill outside Centrica offices

If a year is a long time in politics, then 2016 is a lifetime away. Yet the government has decided not to commit the UK to clean electricity until after the next election.

Yesterday evening we got the phone call. After weeks of squabbling, the government had finally decided what it was going to put in the Energy Bill.

Unfortunately, they decided not to include a firm, legally binding commitment to cleaning up our electricity by 2030 - which the Committee on Climate Change say is a must-have if we're to cut the carbon and help stop climate change.

The decision on whether or not we set a target to deliver carbon-free power will now be set in 2016 - after the next election. So instead of being able to invest confidently in low-carbon electricity, energy companies and investors will have four more years of uncertainty.

It's not like sorting out our electricity is an option.

Around a quarter of our electricity generating capacity will need to be replaced by the end of the decade. The only question is whether we replace it with gas, which is already driving up our fuel bills and would wreck our climate, or renewables, which would make bills more stable and help stave off climate disaster.

The silver lining in today's announcement is that Treasury put its money where its energy policy is. There's a cap on how much government can spend each year on low-carbon electricity, and that will now rise each year, from £2.35 billion today to £7.6 billion in 2020. (That's £25 per household today and £95 in 2020/21.)

The Lib Dems wanted to shout about this, to make up for caving in on the clean power target. Unsurprisingly, many people interpreted this as 'bills to rise to pay for clean power' - not what anyone wants to hear.

Truth is, our bills are rising because we're too dependent on gas.

The only way to stop that and get bills under control is to invest in the alternatives. The government's own advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, say its almost unthinkable that gas would be cheaper than renewables. If we listen to the Chancellor and dump all our money into gas, our bills will be even higher.

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