Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fossil fuel warriors in charge of ConDems energy policy

As the first cold blast of winter heads down from the Arctic, more than five million UK households cannot afford to heat their homes to the standard required for good health and comfort.

And now that the unscrupulous cartel of big energy corporations has slapped a 9% increase on fuel bills – the average bill is now over £1,300 – the number of people in fuel poverty will soar.

David Cameron talked big at his Party’s conference, claiming the government would force the energy giants to offer customers the lowest price tariff but now rushes to change his tune. The best the Coalition can offer is a letter from the supplier telling the customer what their lowest – but still  unaffordable – tariff is.  

UK governments of all stripes have consistently refused to regulate for high energy efficiency leaving the market to decide. The result is most houses being built in the UK even today, wouldn’t get off the drawing board in Scandinavia.

The much proclaimed Green New Deal replaces the former grant programme with loans at high interest rates offset by small amounts of cash back for measurable energy savings. The paltry sum set aside is £200m - £125 will go for loans and £25m on publicity. It will be used up in about three months.

The truth is Cameron’s “greenest ever government” has been taken over by the dirtiest fossil fuel warriors.

Owen Paterson, the new Minister for Energy, is a climate change sceptic who described the potential for gas fracking as "one unexpected and potentially huge windfall". His policy advisor is a former lobbyist for the Australian fossil fuel industry.

Ian Taylor, boss of energy trader Vitol, gave the Tories more than £500,000. Viton is a major shareholder in companies involved in hydraulic fracturing (fracking and coal bed methane extraction, another dirty business.

Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP is a government energy adviser. He is chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s main “frackers”, and is on the board of North Sea deep water oil explorer Riverstone.

Cameron’s new advisor on energy policy is Ben Moxham, who worked for Browne at BP and Riverstone.

Vitol is a major shareholder in Dart Energy, which will soon begin coal bed methane extraction at Airth, on the River Forth. This filthy technology will start with 22 CBM wells but as many as 600 could be on the cards. It is just “the beginning of a nightmarish industrial transformation for the UK as a whole”, says Elsie Walker of campaign group Frack Off.

Do you get the picture? Energy policy in the UK is being written by the fossil fuel industry, in its own profit-driven interests and has nothing to do with keeping consumer prices low or tackling climate change.

The government argues that getting at new sources of fossil fuel is essential to keep prices down. But the exact opposite is the case.

Systems such as “fracking” or coal bed methane capture or tar sand extraction, are only now economic (profitable) because of the rising price of gas as easy to access supplies run out. When gas was plentiful and cheap, they were not viable.

A recent report from IMF on the future of oil notes that keeping oil production going at current levels will bring about a doubling of the cost in the next decade. The report speaks of “economic peak oil”, a point beyond which importer economies cannot sustain production and there is runaway inflation.

The IMF calls it a "shock" that will have "large and persistent" macro-economic effects and it calls on governments to invest heavily in alternative energy sources.

But these arguments will fall on deaf ears because government energy policy is about the corporations and the profits.

This winter, more than 20,000 people in the UK will die from cold and many more become ill or get into debt. It is time to put all energy resources into a new commons and end the corporations’ right to profit from such misery.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

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