On Monday, I summarised the appearances of Ed Davey at last weekend’s Social Liberal Forum conference in London. Here, I outline some of the views expressed and initiatives described by Ed on the day, including during a bloggers’ interview:
Using less energy
Fuel poverty is a serious issue. Energy inefficient building stock is a key cause.
The Green deal, Ed said, had not originally gone as well as it had been hoped. In Phase 1, there were just 250,000 assessments. Phase 2 is going better, and is on track to improve two million homes.
This year will see the first ever pilot of the Electricity Demand Reduction incentive, rewarding companies who invest in energy reduction, for example, in large factories. There is the Community Energy Strategy with a new approach to district heating networks and the encouragement of community energy reduction schemes.
Ed is very much looking forward to the Paris 2015 Climate conference, which he sees as extremely significant. He is very proud of the proposed EU 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and the work of the “Green growth group” of 14 EU country ministers.
Measuring fuel poverty
The old model used for measuring fuel poverty was inaccurate. Even the Queen was fuel poor under it. The measurement has now been improved and there is new policy thinking on fuel poverty, particularly focussing on rural poverty.
Ed is forming thoughts for the Energy section of the 2015 manifesto. His thoughts revolve around “Five green laws for a green liberal Britain” covering these areas:
Energy efficiency and renewable heat
Raising climate ambitions
Pressed by Matthew Hulbert, Ed said that we will need to emphasise our green credentials at the next election, focussing on 2 or 3 things which we have achieved and 2 or 3 things which we want to do. He reckons that renewables “really resonate with the public” whereas “the public do not really understand what ‘green jobs’ are”.
Working with the Conservatives
Given the stories circulating, I imagined the DECC Tory ministers being at daggers’ drawn with Ed. So, I asked him how things work in the department. He replied that “the Secretary of State makes the final decisions”. He says that he and Greg Barker certainly saw eye to eye and that he has a very convivial working relationship with Baroness Verma. Obviously, it was too early to make comment on Amber Rudd or Matthew Hancock, the two new ministers. Ed noted that it was well known that he didn’t see eye to eye with John Hayes and I notice that
Michael Fallon was left hovering in “no man’s land”.
Ed mentioned that the main tension he experiences is with the Treasury and Eric Pickles. He particularly called out the practice of Mr Pickles calling in onshore wind schemes which local councils have already approved. He described such a practice as being alien to the idea of local democracy.
Ed added that the Tories have an ideological approach that all regulation is inherently bad.
Events down under
Matthew Hulbert asked Ed about the recent Australian government to end its pollution levy. Ed said this was “Extremely disappointing…but they have a democratic mandate (to do this)”.
“Growth is green” said Ed, adding that most of British business does not get the credit it deserves for green action. He mentioned that “Insurers know what is happening to the climate….High capitalists are realising that they have to take climate change seriously”.
Countering the Green party
Caron Lindsay asked about countering the threat of the Green Party at next the election. Ed immediately answered “By telling everyone about our fantastic record..19.4% renewable generation of electricity…”. He said that our record is not perfect but it is fantastic where we have had influence.
For some strange reason, Labour put product standards under Defra. Through some quiet behind-the-scenes work, Ed got this responsibility put under the banner of DECC. Appliance standards have now improved dramatically. When compared to 2000 standards, the average new appliance is saving £200 per year due to better energy efficiency.
The nudge theory is being used, allowing people to act with better knowledge. A trial is being worked with John Lewis on white goods to show, alongside the sticker price, the lifetime running costs in “pounds, shillings and pence”, as Ed put it. This, he claimed, would encourage more switching to more efficient models without laws or regulations. The same approach could be applied to cars. He was quite excited about the idea.
Jonathan Calder asked about the promise which the Liberal Democrats made not to subsidise nuclear power generation. Ed said that what we actually promised, through Chris Huhne, were “no special favours” for the nuclear industry. Ed talked about the economic rationale for Hinkley Point C, which will start producing energy in 2023. He said that the pessimistic estimates about its viability do not usually take account of the likely increase in the “price of carbon”, which will rise gradually. He said that it is wrong to compare nuclear energy with the wholesale price now. It needs to be compared with the wholesale price plus the likely carbon price increase by 2023.
He said he had changed his view on nuclear power because of the “real and present danger” of climate change, adding that you cannot move from a fossil fuel economy to a non-fossil fuel economy overnight.
He described the non-nuclear approach to energy generation as “negligent” and “risky”, adding that his main concern regarding nuclear power is the price, not safety or waste disposal.
He said that if you compare the Hinkley C prices which the government has negotiated compared to future prices, including the carbon uplift, then “I think its is a good deal”.
Climate change deniers
Ed said “Beware of people talking as if they know the future”, adding: “Whatever comes out of the energy markets has to be low carbon”.
I asked about the recent BBC Trust judgment encouraging the corporation not to give undue airtime to climate change deniers. He answered that the debate should be based on facts and interests should be declared. “Would we tolerate daily interviews with creationists?” – he asked. He mentioned a recent report by 285 scientists, the “most peer-reviewed piece of science in human history”. He mentioned that “we are winning the argument”.
Ed said: “I am optimistic about the world’s ability to deal with climate change”, quoting three reasons: Washington, Beijing and Europe.
Ed reckons that Washington is at last taking climate change seriously. The latest coal power regulations announced by Gina McCarthy are “really quite dramatic”. With the latest energy efficiency ratings the US is “really moving”. From seeing what John Podesta, Obama’s new climate change adviser, is doing, Ed has concluded that “these guys are serious”.
China is really moving too. The People’s Congress is developing an ecological civilisation. They have realised that social unrest in China is linked to the environment. “If you only have one child and the rivers are toxic” you tend to be angry. The Chinese Communist party is behaving responsibly and it is all being done because of pollution and the fact that their eastern cities are greatly exposed to rising sea levels. China are investing in renewables and nuclear more than any other country. By coincidence, Ed was travelling to China the next day to meet their energy minister. He said that “they genuinely want to move” forward.
In Europe, he is very optimistic that the 40% renewable target will get through, and this may well, in turn, positively influence China and the USA.
Ed also mentioned good signs from India, where their new Prime Minister Modi has written about fighting climate change and previously took positive measures when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Miliband price freeze
This will reduce competition, reduce investments and bring higher prices in the end. He is convinced that the Tories will also offer some sort of election giveaway.
Ed said that he is working an idea, saying that we need something to say which is green and will help people with their bills.
The increase in Scottish renewables has happened under the union. We are already doing very well. Is Scotland really going to be able to do any better? – asked Ed. The impact of support for renewables is currently smoothed over 20 million households. Under an independent Scotland it would be smoothed over 2 million households.
Ed said that Salmond gets away with very poor arguments because no-one challenges him. Salmond needs to be challenged. He added that we can’t just argue on the empirics and the rational. We have got to argue on the emotional. “We’re a family. I will be heartbroken if Scotland leave the union”, he said.