Green energy targets – more of the same

Yesterday’s Observer carried what purports to be a scoop about government attempts to “…water down key environmental regulations in Brussels despite trumpeting its commitment to green issues at home.” The story is based on leaked documents which formed the basis of a Freedom of Information request by Greenpeace that led to the release of a number of other documents.

Kicking the coalition government is all very well, but I’m not impressed with the press triumphalism displayed here. And, in this case at least, neither am I persuaded by the argument that lobbying by the “UK’s big six energy firms” is behind the alleged environmental u-turn.

The thing is, nothing of significance has changed in UK energy policy since the time that Labour leader Ed Miliband was in charge at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Miliband was a pretty good secretary of state, all things considered, and the jury is still out on the current chief Ed Davey. I have no comment to make about Davey’s immediate predecessor, Chris Huhne.

If you look at the substance of Fiona Harvey’s claim in the Observer that the Tory-Liberal government is backtracking on green energy commitments, you soon discover that there isn’t any. Substance, that is. There isn’t much in the way of green energy either, but that’s by the bye, and we should look at this as a work in progress. Or stasis.

The EU target for renewables – to generate 20% or more of energy from sources such as solar, wind, etc. – has long been causing grief in government and civil service circles. And for very good reason, as the practical challenges involved are enormous, and it makes what little ideological squabbling there is over the matter seem especially trivial.

I was in a small way involved in the previous government’s policy development in renewable heat generation, and as a result appreciate the difficulties faced by politicians and civil service experts at the Department of Energy. At that time, the department was consulting far and wide, and there was much constructive input from industry, interest groups and the public. From what I can see now, there has since been little progress, and for that one should look to the lack of action from politicians, rather than deliberate obstruction.

As for industry lobbying, I do not see this as a malign influence on government, provided it is open. There is much to criticise in Britain’s leading energy firms, but they like the rest of us are fretting about the future, desperate to find solutions to the looming energy crisis. That fear should not blind us to the practicalities. The energy companies know this, which is why they are telling it like it is when it comes to technologies such as Combined Heat and Power.

Even if one accepts that the EU renewables target is justified, this doesn’t excuse the lack of attention to detail in policy development and implementation. This applies equally to the currency crisis with the euro, and the EU’s wider management of financial affairs.