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Politics

Energy policy and the environment

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LAST WEEK The Herald looked at the energy market and the ways in which different parties have approached the question of rising domestic energy bills.

That article discussed the ways in which taking advantage of existing energy efficiency schemes and the use of the most competitive tariffs would reduce bills far more than a simple price cut on the most commonly used domestic tariff.

Labour has claimed it will create over 300,000 renewable energy jobs throughout the country and put modern low-carbon industries at the heart of a £500 billion investment strategy, championing ‘a new green industrial revolution’.

One of the big ideas underpinning that commitment is to promote the growth of local energy companies and support the development of 1,000 community energy co-operatives. That’s accompanied by a commitment to 65% renewable electricity by 2030, aiming for 85% as technology improves and diffuses.

All of which will sound very familiar to Plaid Cymru, whose Shadow Environment spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, has called for the creation of Ynni Cymru to promote Wales’ own self-sufficiency in domestic energy. It sounds like Plaid’s clothes have been lifted by Jeremy Corbyn’s promises to invest in similar schemes and raise investment across the UK.

Labour has set out a radical commitment to set up publicly-owned energy supply companies in every region focused purely on cutting prices. Under the same proposals, Government would take ‘control of the natural monopolies of the transmission and distribution grids’ currently run by the National Grid.

The Labour leader has made big promises, and the cynical might think that Labour may as well shoot for The Moon, given the remote chances it has of forming an administration under Jeremy Corbyn as PM.

“We’ve got a real opportunity to drive the green economy – to have green jobs, green growth, and make sure that we have our share of the industries of the future. Clearly there’s the climate change agenda, where we’ve got to get back on track, both nationally and internationally. And third, there is the issue of energy security, which I think is vitally important, which we need to do a huge amount of work on.”

Those were big promises, too. They were made seven years ago by David Cameron at the outset of his first term as PM, when he pledged to lead the greenest government ever. By 2013, David Cameron was keen to ‘get rid of all the green crap’, as the hopes of 2010 smashed into the economic and political realities of Treasury austerity.

The rug was pulled from under the renewables industry: following through on the pledge to virtually ban onshore wind, and slashing the feed in tariff. Overall UK carbon emissions had been falling but the growth in renewables deployment stalled, and solar companies employing thousands of people around the country went bust.

Five years later, at the outset of his second term, David Cameron pulled the Green Deal for UK homes.

On every single one of those policy decisions, commitments, and staggering reversals Theresa May went along, bobbing along like a cork on the tide of Cabinet collective responsibility. The number of times she has spoken out on energy policy in public can be counted on the fingers of one thumb. However, she merged the Department of Energy and Climate Change into a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2016.

While that suggests a rather less overtly ‘green’ approach to the PR side of politics than her predecessor, it is noteworthy that Theresa May has expressed consistent and strong positions on the issue of energy security. Her first noteworthy public policy decision was to initiate a pause on the development of Hinkley B, ostensibly due to concerns of increasing UK reliance on Chinese investment in its energy infrastructure.

In addition, in a complex and volatile international energy market, there are clear attractions for the PM in adopting measure which enhance energy security and the reduction on the reliance of overseas energy. Her concerns on energy supply were echoed in the 2015 Conservative manifesto, which said: ‘Without secure energy supplies, our country becomes less safe and less prosperous’.

And, in 2008, Mrs May said: “I am thrilled to see that after years of Conservative pressure, we have finally passed a necessary and ambitious piece of legislation on Climate Change. Britain is the first country in the world to formally bind itself to cut greenhouse emissions and I strongly believe this will improve our national and economic security.

“To stay reliant on fossil fuels would mean tying ourselves to increasingly unstable supplies which could endanger our energy security and the Climate Change and Energy Bills mark an important step for both the health of our economy and the health of our nation. It is now vital that we stick to these targets.”

The logic of Mrs May’s evident and consistently expressed concerns on security of energy supply is to make the UK more self-sufficient. There are two sides to that issues: firstly, the extension of green energy generation; secondly, the extension of fracking and nuclear power.

The second limb of that proposition is the most contentious. Fracking is a public relations disaster waiting to happen and the first time it is scheduled to take place in a Conservative-held marginal seat is when we will see just how committed the Conservative party is to its use. As for nuclear power, it requires considerable public support and subsidy to make it even marginally viable for the long term.

The only large energy project requiring anything like the level of price support as nuclear power is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, which for all its carbon-saving claims involves quarrying stone in Cornwall, building new jetties extending into the Bristol Channel and transporting the stone over by barge to Swansea by the thousands of tonnes to build a tidal barrage affecting marine life and habitats across the whole of Swansea Bay.

For someone as sensitive to polls as Theresa May it is worth noting that the BEIS tracker surveys on consumer views shows significantly higher support for renewable energy (at around 75-80%) than for other options. Opposition to renewables was very low at 4%, with only 1% strongly opposed.

However, and this is where energy policies and political judgement come into play, support for renewables was lower amongst those in social grade DE (72%), aged 65+ (73%), and social renters (75%).

The first two of those groups are key electoral demographics whose support Theresa May is actively courting. The triangulation of Conservative policy on energy, which now appears to have abandoned the notion that competition delivers the best results for energy users, might not swing a lot of votes, but the Conservative leader will not be shy of using every gimmick in her arsenal to court wavering voters looking for a way to justify voting Conservative.

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Politics

Elin Jones raises Fibre Ceredigion’s connectivity with Openreach

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ELIN JONES AM has attended an Openreach drop in session in the National Assembly of Wales to raise concerns about the lack of Fibre in areas of Ceredigion.

Elin Jones met with Openreach’s Partnership director in Wales, Connie Dixon, and Catherine Colloms, Director of Corporate Affairs. Elin also met with Openreach engineers and was shown the process undertaken in order to install fibres in people’s homes and businesses.

Elin Jones said:

“There are still many homes and businesses in Ceredigion that need to be connected to superfast Broadband. Many are in rural locations, but there are also whole villages and, in most cases, homes that are just at the end of the line and have fallen out of scope.

“More needs to be done to ensure that access to Superfast Broadband for premises across Ceredigion is equally available. I hope to meet with Openreach in the near future in Ceredigion in order to assess the challenges that they face in installing Fibre, but also for them to see the need in our communities for superfast.”

Connie Dixon, Openreach Partnership Director for Wales, said:

“We’re already working closely with the Welsh Government to bring fibre broadband to Wales and as a result of this partnership nearly 95 per cent of the country can access superfast broadband today. But we also know there’s more to do and we’re working hard to reach those properties that currently can’t access fibre broadband.

“We’re also committed to future-proofing the network with full fibre technology but in order to build a new full fibre network for Wales we’ll need the support from our public sector partners.

“It won’t be quick or easy, but action to reduce red tape and remove barriers will speed things up. Full fibre will open up huge possibilities for the Welsh economy and help answer long terms challenges like energy use, climate change and sustainable rural communities.”

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Plaid candiate votes to fight for police devolution

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AHEAD of the general election on 12 December 2019, Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion has outlined a commitment to continue to fight for the devolution of policing to Wales.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of police officers in Wales fell by 9% – with rural Wales particularly hit due to the unfair funding formula used by the UK Government.

Plaid Cymru have announced that they will create a new £50m crime prevention fund to recruit 1,600 extra police officers through the devolution of policing. The proposals would see a greater police presence locally, and helping to root officers in their communities, rather than being stretched over large geographical areas with little resources.

Earlier this year a Welsh Government-appointed commission said Wales should have full control of its justice system, including powers to run policing – with further studies suggesting Wales’ four forces would be in line for £25m extra from the UK government if policing was devolved.

Ben Lake said: “Time after time, police budgets have been cut by the UK Government, meaning far fewer officers are available to police forces in Wales. Welsh forces and rural areas have been hit harder than those in the rest of the UK, due to an unfair Home Office funding formula.”

“Since my election in 2017, I have seen firsthand the detrimental impact this funding arrangement is having on Welsh police forces and communities, something I was glad to raise in Parliament.”

“We cannot expect a one size fits all approach police funding to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria for the central Government grant are revised to reflect the demands and unique challenges faced by rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion.”

“It remains unacceptable that Wales is the only nation in the UK without powers over policing and justice, especially given the clear financial dividend that devolution would bring about.”

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Politics

Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion, welcomed Lord Nick Bourne back to Aberystwyth

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THIS week, Lord Nick Bourne of Aberystwyth, visited the University town to meet with Amanda Jenner, the Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion in the forthcoming General Election. Lord Bourne joined with members of the Aberystwyth University Conservative Society to support Amanda with her General Election campaign to be the next MP for Ceredigion.

Coincidently, Amanda Jenner and Lord Bourne have taken similar paths – both Aberystwyth University Law Graduates who have gone on to work in the Education sector before turning to politics.

Lord Bourne, until recently, was the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Wales Office and was heavily involved with the Mid Wales Growth Deal.

Commenting on the Growth Deal, Lord Bourne said,

“One very important thing that we have been spending a lot of time on as a Government, is to ensure we get money into Mid and West Wales, including Ceredigion, particularly to motivate businesses here.”

“I personally hope that this extends to projects involving Aberystwyth University – who are already doing tremendous work, led by Elizabeth Treasure the Vice-chancellor, to ensure we have prosperity and sustainability.”

Amanda Jenner added,

“From speaking with businesses in Ceredigion, I can see that there are some fantastic opportunities here, including in the tourism and education sectors. If elected as your MP, I would be a strong voice in Westminster, fighting to ensure that the Growth Deal stays on track and that we get the levels of funding needed for the proposals put forward by the partners of the Growth Deal.”

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