Fringe event - Keeping the Lights on: New Statesman with ESB
There was a good deal of agreement from the panel on the lamentable lack of a coherent, system-wide approach to keeping our lights on while addressing our need to reduce carbon emissions. Each took turns to explore the challenges that the energy industry and British economy more broadly faces in the coming decades. As expected after Barry Gardiner’s earlier speech announcing that hydraulic fracturing for shale gas would be banned, this took up a good deal of discussion. Gardiner was sticking to his guns, while Jeremy Nicholson reminded the panel of the need for gas not just as a fuel but also for feedstock for the chemicals industry and Caroline Flint was not convinced that an outright ban was the right course. Gardiner had the last word though and aimed a response at the GMB spokesperson who had earlier criticised the policy for jeopardising 64,000 jobs. He suggested that the more than 300,000 jobs from the smart grid, renewables and energy efficiency measures would more than replace the 64,000 “jobs of the past”
The panel all agreed that gas had an important role to play in the medium term, however long that may be, but that over the longer term it must be combined with carbon capture and storage technology to neutralise carbon dioxide emissions. All felt that the combined departments of BIS and DECC made a lot of sense, but that the government hadn’t yet began to think in a more long term joined up way. On this point Caroline Flint suggested that we need a new Energy Security Board, an independent advisor to government akin to the Committee on Climate Change, which could hold the government to account and make energy planning more long term.
The other significant point of policy made was by Barry Gardiner who singled out Standard Variable Rate Tariffs of energy suppliers, saying that he was calling on Government and the regulator to require that customers who are on such tariffs for more than 18 months should be automatically switched to their supplier’s cheapest tariff. A move which he said would remove the persistent problem in the market where ‘our grannies’ were paying for the deals that more savvy consumers can access.