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We Need Political Leadership To Avoid Further Hikes In Energy Prices

02/08/2017 16:31
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Listen carefully through the outcry surrounding Centrica's inflation busting price rise and you can hear a quiet cry for help from both consumers and an energy industry in dire need of political leadership.

There is a gaping political vacuum in Britain - which neither the government nor the opposition are filling. The last resort of a cap on prices is being discussed again. It underlines how inaction by parties of all stripes and colours has instilled a sense of powerlessness amongst the general public. Whether it's energy, housing, or train fares, the idea that rising prices is something we just have to live with has become common sense.

But it is simply not true and that is shown ever so clearly by the price rises announced by Centrica. The company has said these have been forced upon them by increasing costs of delivering energy and an uncertain market. Though I disagree with the idea that those costs should now be paid for by the public we should not be too quick to doubt their assertion that the external environment has driven up their operational costs.

One of the big questions is why, in an age where the price of renewable energy has fallen faster and further than anyone anticipated, costs should still be driving company prices higher? A lot of the blame must be laid at the door of Government. It is after all Government policy that sends very clear messages about what the future holds in terms of subsidies, how the country's energy needs will be met and where the smart investment needs to go. And at a time of huge global uncertainty - not least the lack of clarity closer to home around Brexit - business needs a clear steer on the future of energy.

What we have seen from this Government however it an allegiance to fracking, dirty nuclear and squeezing every last last drop out of the North Sea Oil reserves. Meanwhile the rug has been pulled out from under the community energy market with cuts to feed in tariffs and there has been constant dithering and uncertainty over the bigger projects like a new tidal lagoon pathfinder in Swansea. No wonder companies are reticent about investing more in the sector.

But a report by the World Economic Forum this year showed that wind and solar is now cheaper and more reliable, given that it is a pretty-much eternal source of energy and the technology has reached the point of mass usage, than fossil fuels. Renewable's time has clearly already come, and not a moment too soon. A programme of investment in the renewables industry would bring a myriad of benefits from the generation of a cheaper, stable energy supply to the growth of an industry (and associated jobs) that could make the UK a world leader in tackling the biggest threat we face: climate change.

This is what makes the actions of politicians like Trump, who is pulling out of the Paris agreement, so serious. Doing so sends the signal to business that the obvious, common sense future for energy, might not be supported in the way they expected.

But even with the reckless actions of the most powerful politician in the world, US businesses have still stuck two fingers up to Trump, showing that the move to clean, renewable energy is unstoppable. It is quite simply the future, whether he recognises it or not.

It is political parties that are being left behind, and hampering the rate of progress to create that secure and safe future. We need the weight and might of government to get onboard the renewable energy train.

The Conservative's disdain for the "green crap" is well known but Labour are not exactly pushing them in a more enlightened direction. Their 2017 manifesto reinforced the party's commitment to utilising the supplies of North Sea Oil and to the Hinkley nuclear power plant and gave no mention to how the party would, in government, hand real power to local communities to get control of their renewable energy supplies.

Cherry picking policy without a coherent vision they are trying to have their cake and eat it: combining lip service to renewable energy with industrial strategies that favour fossil fuels. But like the Conservatives this would send conflicting message to businesses should Labour ever gain power. And it means no effective opposition to change the direction of Government policy while they are out of it.

Centrica's announcement has reminded us just how clear, common sense, long-term thinking is required if we are to benefit from the renewables revolution and not be left behind. It's time for the other parties to nail their colours to the mast and commit to delivering a secure, stable, and clean future with energy prices that we can all afford - permanently.

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