Thursday, 3 November 2011

Brief Encounter or The Life of Brian?

Sometimes life has strange coincidences.

Returning from London on the train the other evening, I ran by chance into Green Councillor Andrew Cooper (author of the blog Greening Kirklees), who was not long finished at a consultation session between environmental groups and Greg Barker, Tory Energy Minister and deputy to the Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. Professionally, Andrew is an expert in the renewable energy field and he was lamenting the reversal in Government policy over renewable energy feed-in tariffs, a great incentive for consumers to install microgeneration in their homes, especially solar panels, and which pays them for electricity they generate but don’t use (it is instead fed into the national grid, hence the micro-producers’ payment from the electricity companies).

Huhne’s department, in spite of claiming to be part of the greenest government in history, has just decided to slash the subsidies supporting solar power and the tariff (from private companies) by 50% on the spurious grounds that the 30p added to the average annual household fuel bill by the tariff arrangement pushes poorer people into fuel poverty. The Government also for some reason adds the cost of the tariff to the public deficit, in spite of there being no public funding involved and hence utterly no reason for doing so.

We grumbled a bit more about Huhne’s turnaround on nuclear energy as well – from decrying it as dangerous and expensive in his days in opposition to now advocating it as an essential part of Britain’s energy supply and adopting the bizarre view of it as being a source of green energy.

Bidding Cllr Cooper farewell, moments later, on a connecting train, I was hailed by an old acquaintance, now a recently elected Lib Dem MP, who out of residual personal affection shall remain nameless.

He was looking a bit downhearted, apparently having just rebelled, clearly with some difficulty, against one of the Government’s welfare plans. I asked him how he was finding life as an MP and heard him say how awful it all was, how essential the dreadful cuts were to tame the deficit, how Plan A wasn’t working but they had no choice, etc, etc. My suggestion that some good old Liberal Keynesianism might help seemed to go down like a bucket of cold water in a rainstorm, but he tried to appeal to my environmentalism by telling me, “We have done some good green stuff. Chris Huhne has introduced some new green energy initiatives.”

Well prep’d from my discussion with Cllr Cooper, I responded, “Well, hasn’t Chris Huhne just slashed the feed-in tariff...?”

“Yes, yes, he has...but before last week, he had done some good stuff.”

“Well, I don’t like his turnaround on nuclear energy...I remember watching him talk about that in the past and he was really anti but he seems to have changed his tune...”

“Er...yes, but at least there won’t be public funding for it...I mean apart from the tariffs and nuclear...we will eventually do more solar panels...I think...”

“It would be good if money was spent on solar now...its a labour intensive field and if you invested in jobs, the multiplier effect would generate tax and get the deficit down. But I think I read they are cutting back on funding community schemes for renewables...”

“Yes...but....apart from these...I think in time we will do more green things... our Green Investment Bank, when it gets will... well, it’s difficult...”

And then, as our brief encounter threatened to turn into a reverse parody of Life of Brian, it was his stop.

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