Skip to content

If he really wants to serve the will and best interests of the people, David Cameron must first jettison Britain’s green Huhnacy.

Amazing. It’s no wonder Chris Huhne, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) supremo has been dubbed Attila the Huhnatic. Hauled in to an emergency energy summit by David Cameron on rising energy bills, the CEO’s for the UK’s Big Six power companies found themselves at a meeting co-chaired by Cameron and Huhne. In the wake of September’s warning from his own energy advisors, Cameron needed to be seen to act to assuage the growing public anger. This was it.

Top of the agenda for a rattled Cameron: how to cut soaring domestic energy bills. Top of the agenda for Huhne: preserving his carbon-cutting targets whatever the cost to domestic energy consumers. Granted, it must have been difficult to see and hear all that was going on given the two elephants in the room – green taxes and shale gas.

So what was the upshot of said summit? Well you might think Cameron, intent on knocking heads, would have at least some gained concessions for domestic energy users; but not a bit of it. The Big Six walked away conceding nothing more than that they would write to subscribers urging them to review their tariff arrangements and consider switching suppliers if they were dissatisfied. (I did that right before my new provider upped its bills to equate with my former provider.) As for the huhnatic-in-chief, his contribution was priceless: yes, agreed Huhne, be open to switching suppliers but also to using less energy. Brilliant. So a British population, where 1 in 4 will reportedly be in fuel poverty by 2015 (the motivation for Cameron calling the summit), must bear all the responsibility for current national energy policies.

It seems Huhne believes that the government can set policy which becomes inviolable while the rest of us struggle to bear the resultant costs. Yet as much as one-third of British energy bills consist of the contribution required to pay for the government’s ROC (Renewables Obligation Certificate) that forces the power companies to buy electricity at well above market prices; feed-in tariffs that subsidise lousy electricity returns from windmills (that don’t work at all in the coldest periods); and a brainless scheme that offers massive solar panel subsidies for homeowners on the Costa del Manchester (famous for its grey skies).

So let’s sum up. The summit achieved absolutely no direct relief at all for the consumer – other than to remind them of their ‘rights’, and infer that they currently use too much energy. As for the Big Six power companies, they need make no concessions – just keep accruing the vast public subsidies rolling in for renewable projects. Oh yes, while writing letters to remind customers of their responsibilities.

So much for helping energy consumers, Dave.

Here’s what I said about Cameron’s appointment of Huhne back in August 2010:

What was David Cameron thinking? Sure, he had to cut some unpalatable deals with the Liberal Democrats to get into power. Sure, that would mean living with a few uncomfortable appointments to his Cabinet team. But in handing Chris Huhne the Energy and Climate Secretariat, Cameron not only shocked UK energy insiders – but the appointment has almost certainly sown the toxic seeds of disunity for the “brokeback coalition”.

So it is proving. Already Chancellor George Osborne is locked in battle with Huhne’s DECC believing that his colleague’s green agenda has become an impediment to growth and economic recovery.

And a word about that other pachyderm in the room at Monday’s summit: shale gas. Chris Huhne has consistently  stated his opposition to the “dash for gas” in favour of keeping his precious, EU-pleasing, carbon targets. This week also, the British Geological Survey reported that that the mild seismic tremors reported in the Blackpool area in April and May this year were caused by Cuadrilla’s onsite hydraulic fracking. The fear now is that Huhne will use any further mild tremors in the area to act to kill the UK shale gas industry, ignoring 60 years of safe hydraulic fracking. This in an industry lately predicted to be able to make the country self-sufficient in gas, as avers to importing 80 percent of its gas needs by 2020.

But Cameron faces a political conundrum and one that could easily force him out of office. Two recent polls suggest the EU and Britain are set on a collision course over future energy and climate policies. In September, in a three-country poll (Britain, the U.S. and Canada) the Angus Reid Public Opinion organisation reported that less than half of Brits (43 percent) believe that global warming is a fact and/or is caused by human activity. That’s more than Americans (49 percent) or Canadians (52 percent) who share that view. According to the poll however, over 33 percent of Brits now favor economic growth above protecting the environment with 40 percent favoring the environment. That’s a massive 11 percent shift toward favoring economic growth above the environment since a poll the previous year. It is clear that a major proportion of the British electorate does not back Huhne’s obsession with carbon targets – and the cost to them it incurs.

As if the anti-green agenda backlash was not enough, Cameron will be lamenting that a poll among Europeans has also given new impetus to the EU’s green agenda. According to a Eurobarometer poll in October 2011, unlike Brits, Europeans are more concerned about climate change than they are about their financial affairs. Incredibly, against all the evidence, a massive 80 percent of Europeans still believe that tackling the climate will boost the economy and create jobs. Even the abject failure of Obama’s green stimulus plan appears not to have convinced them otherwise. Unfortunately for Cameron, the response to the Eurobarometer poll from Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, was predictable. “I see this poll very much as an encouragement for us in the Commission to continue fighting for ambitious and concrete climate action in Europe”.

Of course, the EU, not being a democratic institution, has no need to worry about polls. Cameron has no such luxury. However, if Cameron is serious about impacting British domestic energy bills – and he must know Monday’s summit has not achieved that end – he has the very real option of ending the obscenely expensive (and, in terms of cutting emissions, badly failing) green agenda.

Of course, that would mean ditching the EU’s economy-busting carbon targets and tilting at the Quixotic windmills. But he could actually do something to help haul thousands out of their fuel poverty, create real jobs, genuinely stimulate the economy – and turn around the ailing fortunes of his government to boot.

Cameron must back his Chancellor against his energy minister (and it is not a done deal, Cameron is himself a green ideologue) and that will mean facing greater seismic activity in Westminster (threatening the coalition) and Brussels (threatening EU relations) than was ever felt on the paltry tremors in Blackpool.

If he really wants to serve the will and best interests of the people, Cameron must first jettison Britain’s green Huhnacy.

Energy Tribune, 20 October 2011