Power struggles over energy at the heart of UK government

By KelvinR

The UK’s energy secretary yesterday spoke out against what he called the “climate sceptics and armchair engineers” who he claimed were “selling Britain’s ingenuity short” by rubbishing the country’s renewable energy targets.

However his speech at the annual conference of industry body RenewableUK was almost certainly also directed at a particular individual – UK chancellor George Osborne.

It’s no secret that the Treasury and Huhne’s energy department have been at loggerheads for some time over the funding needed for the UK’s renewable targets, and Osborne has been conspicuous in his silence over the so-called green industry and the country’s proposed Green Investment Bank.

However the chancellor used the Conservative party conference earlier this month to say for the first time that he thought the UK would cut emissions “no slower but also no faster” than other countries.

This infuriated many in his own party and all of Britain’s renewable companies. But it was music to the ears of many Tories. Also at the conference, George Freeman MP told a climate change debate: “Some of my fellow Conservatives think [the money being spent on renewables] is hugely indefensible.”

The fallout from Osborne’s remarks has continued ever since. Last week at an energy seminar at the Royal Society in London, John Cooper, a lawyer specialising in energy who advises regulators, industry and, at times, the government, said Osborne’s remarks had “undermined confidence in the industry” and added it demonstrated “a lack of belief in the government’s long term strategies”.

And that’s the wider problem. At a time when Britain needs to attract investment into all of its energy infrastructure, not just renewables, the last thing it needs is a chancellor saying he’ll be keeping his purse strings firmly tied to anything renewable. If a country’s own government is seen as reluctant to put cash into its industry, why should those investors watching from foreign shores. Because let’s not forget that its foreign investment and foreign companies that will make the wheels – or the turbines – go round in any UK power industry.

Meanwhile, prime minister David Cameron must be seeing red over his assertion made on day one in the job that his would be “the greenest government ever”.