Huhne Does He Think He is?

What the Minister for Energy and Climate Change thinks about the public:

Who does he think he is?

The environmental movement and the UK government previous and present have emphasised that price is fundamental to ‘sending signals’, both to the market to encourage investment in the technologies it favours; and to the consumer to coerce him to modify his behaviour. Neither of them have emphasised the possibility of cheaper, more abundant energy, and the good that it would produce: lowering prices, broadening access to transport, and making people’s lives more comfortable.

With public priorities and expectations so diminished, is it any surprise that energy companies have, in accordance with such goals, created a baffling array of tariffs, taking the opportunity to make more money? That is the entire ethic of energy reduction: more for less. That is the inevitable consequence — and completely in the spirit — of doing things like creating tradable commodities out of immaterial objects, such as emissions-trading quotas.

Enough fighting about the rights and wrongs of climate change, we should be answering people like Huhne with positive arguments for more.

30 thoughts on “Huhne Does He Think He is?”

  1. Chris Huhne is right, purely in that it is often possible to get a better deal by shopping around. But yes, it is also bizarre for him to criticise consumers for not being the sort of consumers he thinks we ought to be (NB, when a politician criticises the electorate in this way, I find it always a useful question to ask exactly who is out of touch with whom.)

    The Times article is behind a paywall, of course, but the Guardian also reports: “Mr Huhne has reportedly asked regulator Ofgem to pursue a complaint that the large energy companies are squeezing out smaller suppliers with impossibly cheap deals.”

    And this is where Mr Huhne’s logic falls somewhat short. For yes, there are small new energy companies offering “green” tariffs, and these are the companies I presume he is seeking to promote. However, I find their deals tend to be more expensive than those of the Big Six, or at best, little different to the Big Six’s standard variable deals. Entering my details into a price comparison website, such as energyhelpline.com, for example, I find that the cheapest deal is with one of the Six, and by choosing a “green deal”, I would be paying from around £60 to £200 more than that, annually.

    But the cheapest Big Six deals would be the sort of “impossibly cheap deals” I understand Mr Huhne wants to stop. If they were not offered any more, the “green deals” would become more competitive, there would be less of a price difference and we would be generally paying more for our energy.

    And then it would surely contradict what he was saying in the first part of the article, because there would be no substantial amounts for us to save by shopping around. And also no point him criticising us for not shopping around.

    Mr Huhne is a fascinating and contradictory character, and I look forward to reading a psychological study of the man, one day. But I can’t help wishing that he were not currently in charge of the UK’s Department of Energy.

  2. Buff has his fingers in his ears again. One thing to tell (suggest?) consumers to search for good deals, another to malign them especially as his policies are adding to fuel poverty. Buff’s response (end of article below) to informed critique of his policies are not unlike those of Pachauri’s response to scientists that rubbished IPCC claims about Himalayan glacier melt.

    “The Prime Minister has been warned that government plans to get people to reduce their bills through efficiency measures are likely to fail.

    Mr Cameron’s senior energy adviser pours scorn on claims by Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, that rises in gas and oil prices will be offset by people using less power. A note by the adviser describes his department’s analysis as “unconvincing”.

    It warns that the Government’s move to increased nuclear power, wind turbines and other measures will add 30 per cent to the average family’s annual energy bill of £1,069 by the end of the decade.

    Mr Cameron is said to be “very worried” about the figures in the paper, written by Ben Moxham, his senior energy adviser who was recently brought in to beef up the Prime Minister’s policy unit.

    The private note, seen by The Daily Telegraph, is titled “Impact of our energy and climate policies on consumer energy bills”. It was sent to Mr Cameron and offers a blunt assessment of how Coalition energy plans, in particular a series of green policies, will affect householders.

    It concludes: “Over time it is clear that the impact of our policies on consumer bills will become significantly greater.”

    Rising energy bills represent a problem for the Coalition at a time when wages are being squeezed and inflation is high.

    Mr Cameron has vowed to bring down energy prices by giving the regulator Ofgem tougher powers, but this year he has had to watch as energy companies increase their prices.

    The disclosure that Mr Cameron’s own policies are likely to add “significantly” to the burden on householders will anger voters. Just two months ago, Mr Huhne described calculations by researchers at Cambridge University that the Coalition’s reforms would increase bills by 32 per cent as “rubbish”.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8741032/Environment-policy-reforms-to-add-300-to-energy-bills.html

  3. I’m very much against the DESERTEC proposal, as it strikes me as neo-colonialism of the worst kind. Surely solar power in Africa (if it is economically viable) should be used to supply the electricity demands of Africans, not Europeans!

  4. George,

    If you do the sums, I think you’ll find that there is the potential to supply the Europeans as well as the Africans from this source – it is difficult to imagine that it will not become economic at some point in the future.

    At the moment, many Africans currently have no access to electricity at all or at best significantly less than Europeans, let alone Americans. The morality in this issue all hinges on that observation IMO.

    1. I don’t think any sums show that either Europeans or Africans could enjoy electricity from Desertec at night, Philip.

      (Except in Huhne’s version of mathematics, of course.)

      I don’t want to sound cynical — I’m sure there’s a place for solar, where it’s worthwhile, especially if you can do things to store the energy, or use it for applications that are not so sensitive to changes in demand. But it seems to me that the merits of solar power projects such as this are given solely by the climate issue. I am not convinced there can be a sensible conversation about viable forms of renewable electricity production (or even, really, technologies such as nuclear, or perhaps even energy at al), when climate dominates, at the expense of the idea of energy production for us so to speak. The debate seem to have forgotten what energy is for, and it’s production is almost treated as a nuisance, fact-of-life sort of thing, rather than a thing which offers huge possibilities for better ways of life.

  5. Ben,

    I’m certainly not trying to express the merits of solar or nuclear power in terms of climate change. I think the merits speak for themselves. I agree that the green perspective skews discussion of the issue and that you can see the effect of this in MacKay’s book. But it seems to be self-defeating to say that we won’t talk about energy unless climate is excluded.

    I also say again that the sums most definitely do show that Europeans and Africans could enjoy electricity from solar panels in the desert. I’ve seen loads of arguments of the form of the solar energy at night argument. I think they are unjustified for exactly the same reason that I think the greens are wrong to point at limitations to physical resources. They are essentially technical problems that will be solved.

  6. George,

    I agree that the desert scheme is not currently viable, but do you honestly think that this will remain true into the future? There is a need for a great deal more electricity over the next 50 years. How do you think it can be generated?

  7. Surely solar power in Africa (if it is economically viable) should be used to supply the electricity demands of Africans, not Europeans!

    By this logic the Saudis should not sell their oil, but keep it for Arab use.

    Africa needs every industry it can get.

  8. Yes, more, Ben, more but how? How would we translate these inspicuous (I should be more explicit and say in-auspicous) ‘ meanings’ into reality – I’m at a loss – I know history is against me – against you, young man – I know whatever I pretended was ‘poetry’ was obviously a joke. But you, to look square ahead, how do you act, how should we act? Give us a clue!

  9. One day we will get Bens’ Manifesto – but, as we all know, no ‘manifesto’ can compete against hisory. Maybe I’m too pessimistic but I know we’re going to see some bad times before we see some good. You can be ‘eutopian’ about the future, talking of ingenuity ( mans ‘ingenuity’, lol! ) and sunlit uplands, but this ‘now’ is the world in which we live. What to do, Ben, what is to be done?

  10. Guardian spots another reason for currently being sceptical about PV panels:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/18/chinese-solar-panel-factory-protest

    But the following company thinks it can avoid the problem by using smoke and mirrors:

    http://www.ausra.com.au/technology/

    My eye caught this passage from the Guardian article:

    Increasingly, however, Chinese citizens are uneasy about the consequences of pollution in all industries. As incomes levels and environmental awareness rise, there is a growing reluctance to accept dirty growth.

    Presumably another example of the environmental benefits of growth and development?

  11. Whilst looking up something else, I noticed these diverting statements in the House in May from Maestro Huhne:-

    Over the past year, energy policy has been in the spotlight. From the gulf of Mexico to Fukushima, no one can doubt the importance of our energy choices. For the first time, scientists have linked greenhouse gas emissions to an increased risk of major floods.

    And a short time later:-

    The hon. Gentleman can take it from me, as a former journalist on The Guardian, that he should not always believe everything he reads.

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110510/debtext/110510-0002.htm

    Firstly, I hadn’t realized he used to work for the Guardian: presumably that explains quite a bit. Secondly, I wonder if anyone ever pointed out to him the irony in encouraging the hon Gentleman to “not always believe everything he reads”, directly following his statement that “scientists have linked greenhouse gas emissions to an increased risk of major floods.” It’s difficult to feel optimistic sometimes.

  12. As a youngster, I used to rail against the ruling class, thinking of them as aristos, fat capitalistas and bankers, etc. But now, I rail against the bureaucratic, theocratic, green ruling class. What these people, like Huhne, do not get, is that they are not FOR or WITH the people, or even the “environment”, but only FOR and WITH their bourgois dinner party guests who have been indoctrinated at the same university.

    Truly a sad state of affairs. As an erudite guy from the “working class” (grammar school) I can only presume that the green movement is just another excuse for elite rule. I’m learning Portuguese, Brasil seems like a good option. Ronny Biggs did fine!

  13. I agree with Ben’s comment here. Solar has a use, in remote places requiring small amounts of regular energy expenditure – such as Northern Australia or Outer Space. It just is not economical on an industrial scale … sorry, hippies.

    As to other Alternate Fuels … even in Brasil, the Sugar Ethanol industry only exists because of government subsidy … even then, ethanol is more expensive than gasoline at the gas station. AND, it isn’t “saving the planet”.

    Note to Ben: I have made statements here which, if you consider important, I would be obliged to provide factual (rather than anectdotal) evidence.

  14. @Philip

    The problem with wind and solar power is that the energy flux is low, so to get a decent amount of energy you need an enormous area of land. The largest solar photovoltaic project currently is the Hoya de los Vicentes in Spain. It uses about one square kilometre of land and has a PEAK output of 23 MW (the average power output is only about 3 MW, due to clouds and night). 23 MW is less than the power output of just one of a Boeing 737’s two engines, or less than 1% of the power of the Drax coal-fired power station.

    As for how to meet increasing demand for electricity without using more fossil fuels, I think nuclear fission is the only currently viable option. Civilization has always evolved in the direction of higher-density fuels: from wood to coal, from coal to oil, and from fossil fuels to nuclear fuels.

  15. Hi George,

    Thank you: I agree with what you say on both renewables and fission. I’d add that I think desert solar is more viable in principle than wind. The current UK energy consumption is about 9 EJ/yr (with perhaps 15% of that as electricity). Accepting MacKay’s figure of 64 TJ/km^2.yr for onshore wind, this corresponds to 150,000 km^2 of onshore wind turbines or 60% of the UK land area. The figure you quote for Hoya de los Vicentes of 3 MW/km^2 is equivalent to 100 TJ/km^2.yr. If this rate were obtained in the Sahara, then UK energy consumption would be satisfied by 1% of the available land area. Also, MacKay’s suggested figure for concentrating solar is 480 TJ/km^2.yr, which if true would reduce that fraction by a factor of 5. I’m not sure if the difference here is because MacKay has it wrong, or something to do with PV vs concentrators or simply improved technology since Hoya de los Vicentes was built. Obviously, there is still a glut of problems to resolve before desert solar could become practical. But to a lesser extent, I understand this is also true for fission. To make it practical in the longer term requires technology that isn’t quite with us yet – either fast breeder or thorium.

  16. I also wonder how David Cameron views the issue of wind farms relative to the proposed planning regulations changes? In all the fuss about this, I’ve seen very little criticism about the vast amount of land in the UK that will most likely end up occupied by turbines, or the fact that there remains such a desperate need for new housing.

  17. Drilling in the Bowland basin near Southport has indicated that this basin alone is likely to contain some 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

    Assuming that 20% of this is recoverable, this would mean at a stroke that current UK gas reserves would be quadrupled and gas imports which sre currently estimated to rise to 80% of consumption by 2020 could be virtually eliminated.

    This new gas could be used to power our next generation of energy efficient gas fired power stations and to replace most of the gas imports that were expected to provide 80% of our gas consumption by 2020.

    These power stations could be built at a quarter of the cost of the wind farms they would replace and could provide gas and electricity at a fraction of the cost now projected. This would enormously benefit our industry, creating jobs and benefitting all of us for decades.

    Huhne should be delighted at this amazing turn of events which if he were to play
    his cards right could turn him from zero to hero in an instant.

    Unfortunately in the real world Huhne appears very determined to remain a zero. He is no doubt as I write having his ear bent by WWF/UK and the Tyndall Centre, who are, it would appear, distraught to see their plans for world domination about to turn to dust and are doing their best to strangle this baby at birth.

    1. David, Huhne’s party is equally committed to insanity…

      U.K. Needs Windfall Tax on Nuclear Plants, Coalition Party Says

      Electricite de France SA, Britain’s largest generator with eight nuclear plants, may earn as much as 154 million pounds ($242 million) of “extra profit” as a result of a tax on carbon-dioxide emissions from 2013, Citigroup Inc. said March 25. The Treasury imposed the tax of 4.94 pounds per metric ton of emissions from fossil-fueled power stations in its budget this year. That’s had the effect of raising the price EDF can get for all the power it produces.
      The so-called carbon price floor “is a great, great plan but it has one flaw, not only does it help emerging renewables, what it also does is give a lift up to old nuclear,” Liberal Democrat lawmaker Robin Teverson told delegates. “It’s wrong, it’s immoral, it’s not ethical” to use additional charges on household bills “to give new profits to old nuclear for no extra effort.”

      The LD’s are a very confused bunch indeed. Apparently it’s not actually enough simply to be low-carbon; you have to be the right kind of low-carbon.

  18. Actually wind farms are pretty much useless anyway unless you have gas-fired power stations to back them up, so we may not even need to build many new gas-fired power stations.

    Although I definitely prefer nuclear to fossil fuels, I’m cautiously supportive of the Bowland drilling as it could mean less of our money will be going Gazprom’s way in the short term (ie until we can expand our nuclear fleet).

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