What does the reshuffle say about the UK government’s energy intentions?
David Cameron and his right hand man, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne appeared to send out a clear message to the renewables sector by their choice of replacement for the unfortunate Charles Hendry in mid-week.
Mr. Osborne and his colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change have been at loggerheads during the year, with Osborne bent on gas being the focus of the country’s energy future, while Davey appears keen to provide some support for renewables.
Ed Davey may have won a symbolic victory in preventing renewable subsidy cuts from being as deep as they could have been, but by stealth the treasury has imposed its will.
Charles Hendry, a man who seemed to carry goodwill across the sectors for his seeming desire to get the best for all parties has been replaced by John Hayes, a man who, if you are to take his past record on the subject at face value, must surely be viewed as an avowed opponent of the wind sector.
The under fire chancellor couldn’t have asked for a more brazen statement of intent, than the imposition of Hayes in the portfolio.
The treasury have not minced words in recent months about their belief in a gas-powered UK, and are loathe to give the renewable sector any positive signal about where it stands.
The ability of social media to allow affected parties to dispense mixed messages is a new phenomenon. Jennifer Webber, RenewableUK Director of External Affairs, was immediately negative about the appointment on Twitter, saying she thought the timing for such a change of minister was all wrong, before a more sober and official statement appeared the following day.
While welcoming the new minister she was eager to impress on him RenewablesUK’s eagerness to ensure the bill is passed, and also went to some lengths to point out all the good works his predecessor, the ousted Hendry had presided over.
Reading between those lines it’s fair to say RenewableUK are not crazy about the appointment.
There is an argument that Cameron, no doubt having his sidekick in his ear, has brought in somebody who will not provide much resistance to treasury directions, and if his past record is anything to go by, will be only too motivated to stand up to any wind energy interests who want to challenge the government’s position.
On PEI LinkedIn during the week, Oxford-based energy journalist Nicholas Newman said it was time for the renewable sector to grow up, adding, “It has had plenty of state featherbedding to turn long promised ambitions into commercially affordable products. Unfortunately, in this time of recession, it's not only the taxpayer but also the customer that can no longer afford the renewable industries dreams. For too long the renewable industry has been a costly cottage industry, it has not moved on to the next stage, like China has of large-scale cheap products.”
However as the UK’s energy future unfolds the John Hayes might do well to take a leaf out of Hendry’s book and approach the business with all sectors in a fair and businesslike manner, rather than the partisan, anti-renewable stance some fear he has been selected to perform.
Renewable energy is not the sole solution to Britain’s energy future but it has a significant role to play, and the new appointee ought to be mindful of that.