Coalition Governments are inherently difficult to master, particularly so in the UK where they are very uncommon. It is therefore quite an achievement for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives to have reached this stage without a break up, despite their differences. However with less than six months to go before the next UK election it looks like the steering is getting a little wonky and nowhere is this more obvious than in energy policy. It seems that internecine strife has broken out in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), a blitz of speeches and press releases in recent days demonstrates a widening of the gap between the two coalition partners.
Ed Davey, Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, addressed the Renewables UK Conference in Manchester on the 12th of November at which he lauded the UK’s commitment to renewable methods of generating electricity. Amongst other things he said “The five years of the next Parliament must see a continued rapid expansion of renewable power – more onshore wind, more offshore wind, more solar.” and “The 2013 Energy Act represents the biggest revolution in our energy sector since privatisation in the 1990s.” You can read the full speech here. On the same day DECC released a statement on the deal between the US and China on carbon emissions saying that “The UK led the drive to achieve an ambitious new EU target, and others are now following the EU’s lead and putting targets on the table.”
In sharp contrast, on the 13th of November Matthew Hancock, Business, Enterprise and Energy Minister, announced the set up of the national UK onshore oil and gas colleges headquartered in Blackpool and linked to colleges in Chester, Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth. In his Blackpool speech he talked of shale gas as “an enormous opportunity for the UK and one that we simply can’t afford to miss out on.” and “Imagine if we had passed up a similar opportunity to go into the North Sea some fifty years ago. What if we’d let that oil and gas stay in the ground?” You can read the full speech here. On the same day in a speech on energy priorities at Goldman Sachs he said “the greenest fossil fuel, shale gas can provide a bridge to a much cleaner future. We have to extract it carefully, cautiously, and with deep respect for the natural environment.”
And it doesn’t end there; Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary argued in a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation that the UK should scrap the Climate Change Act because of what he termed “considerable uncertainty” of warming due to carbon emissions. His replacement as Environment Secretary, Liz Truss MP, went on record in the Mail on Sunday on the 19th of October to say that taxpayer handouts to massive “ugly” solar farms must end. Contrast this with Mr Davey’s words “The 2013 Energy Act represents the biggest revolution in our energy sector since privatisation in the 1990s. – And the most comprehensive long-term legal and financial framework for cost-effective energy decarbonisation anywhere in the world.”
As so often heard in the London Underground “Mind the Gap”, I am sure we will hear much more of this and other separations between the parties in the lead up to the next election.