I know that comparisons to the The Thick of It are wearing a bit thin these days but the latest row over comments by Energy Minister John Hayes is beyond DoSac.
I know that comparisons to the The Thick of It are wearing a bit thin these days but the latest row over comments by Energy Minister John Hayes is beyond DoSac. It might also reveal one of the real tensions in the coalition over energy policy and the green agenda. Hayes is quoted in the Mail and Telegraph attacking onshore windfarms today saying “If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 [renewable energy] target… I’m saying enough is enough.”
I understand Mr Hayes, whose scepticism to windfarms meant renewables strategy was taken away from his job when he was appointed in the recent reshuffle, was hauled in by Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s office yesterday and told not to say that. I am told Mr Hayes agreed that his speech at the Renewables UK conference would be amended accordingly. But he had given the original briefing quotes to the newspapers – who promptly quoted things that were not actually said. This has allowed Mr Hayes to claim he stands by what he said on the record – but we don’t know whether he retracts what he briefed to the papers.
So who is right? Well, you can always cut the amount of onshore wind generation, but in order to meet the target of having 15 per cent of our energy consumption from renewables by 2020 we would have to replace it mainly with offshore wind which is about twice as expensive. So his claim that building even “a minority” of windfarms in the planning system would be enough to meet the target is, say Ed Davey’s people, wrong.
The prime minister dodged Ed Miliband’s question in PMQs about whether he supported Ed Davey or John Hayes, sticking (unusually) to the DECC script that government policy has not changed. That sounds a bit like he sided with Ed Davey. But Mr Hayes may in fact have won in the longer term. The suspicion in the renewables sector is that John Hayes is merely saying what George Osborne and others at the top of the Conservative Party think in private. And it has long been thought they were trying to chip away at the renewable energy subsidies as a way of cutting energy bills.
Investment in onshore wind may become harder to find – especially now Conservative councils looking at planning applications have now had the nod from their minister about enough being enough. So Ed Davey may think he has slapped his junior Conservative minister down – but the junior partner Mr Hayes may have the last laugh.
In an ideal world we would have Ed Davey and John Hayes on Channel 4 News to debate their opposing views on wind power. We’d also like to ask what they think of David Cameron’s pledge to force energy companies to put customers on their lowest tariff – also something they are said to disagree about. It doesn’t appear either men are available. The invitation remains open.
Follow @krishgm on Twitter.