With the most unpredictable election in living memory nearly upon us, the prospect of a hung parliament looms large in the country's collective thoughts. Never before has the prospect of a coalition government seemed so certain in British politics, and it's dividing opinion across the country. However, it's difficult to see how the prospect of a minority party sitting in government being such a bad thing.
For one, many of the minor parties have made manifesto commitments to making Britain greener. In short, if we want to preserve our environment for future generations while allowing them to enjoy a similar quality of life to us, it is for the greater good that the two major parties in Westminster are forced to share power with one or more smaller parties.
Hydro-electric power is one of the most cost-effective and efficient green energies available. The Cruachan Power Station in Scotland has a staggering output of more than 700 Gigawatt hours per year. This is enough to bat with the big hitters of coal, gas and oil and their effective (but polluting), energy generation.
The humble 10kW wind turbine, by comparison, only has an output of 16,000 kilowatts annually. While the use of wind farms is undoubtedly cleaner for the environment than fossil fuels, the energy output just isn't big enough to provide the kind of energy necessary to replace powerful but dirty generation. Wind turbines also require massive government subsidies to achieve a return on investment. The fact that hydro-electric power is the most widely used form of renewable energy globally speaks volumes; the British government need to get serious about implementing it here.
With this in mind, you may find it astounding that Labour and the Conservatives aren't discussing it as a solution in the run-up to the election. The Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and even UKIP all mention hydro-electric, tidal, or wave power in their manifestos, with varying degrees of commitment to the issue. It must, however, be noted that UKIP also want to repeal the Climate Change Act 2008 and open more coal-fired power stations, not to mention that some high profile members openly deny climate change.
To me it seems obvious that for this issue to be discussed seriously at a Westminster level, parties outside of the Labour/Conservative binary need to have their voice heard. It's lucky, then, that we're almost certainly headed towards a coalition; every party who could realistically end up as a minority partner in government has highlighted the use of hydro-electric, wave, or tidal energy as a possible solution to the fossil fuel issue. The most promising of these is the SNP.
Polling data from IPSOS Mori on the 30th April predicted that the SNP will win every single seat in Scotland. This would effectively shut Labour and the Lib Dems out of the country, and make the SNP the third biggest party in the House of Commons in the process. Scotland already harnesses 10% of its electricity from hydro-electric solutions, and is targeting further growth in the sector. In their manifesto the SNP pledge to make it easier for the hydro-electric sector to grow not just in Scotland, but on a UK-wide level.
The Scottish nationalists have ruled out a deal with the Tories, so if they win as many MPs in Scotland as they're projected to, the only way they could get into power is if they forged a deal with Ed Miliband's Labour Party. Forget John Major's scaremongering comments about the 'chaos' this would cause, it could instead lead to the most environmentally friendly government we've ever seen.
Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party for Wales, has also pledged to exploit the UK's rich resources for hydro-electric power. Oddly enough, despite being the primary environmentalist party of the UK, the Green Party manifesto has not one mention of hydro-electric power. They do however pledge £2.5 billion for research and development of tidal and wave energy, but these are nowhere near as effective as the massive fossil-fuel matching potential of hydro-electric power. As strange as it may seem, Plaid and the SNP have a more prudent approach to green energy than the party named after the practice. This, along with their flawed housing policy which I've mentioned in a previous blog post.
It's looking like a one party government will be near-enough impossible come May 8th, and for advocates of green energy, that's no bad thing. The two major parties have failed to adequately address the issue, flimsily saying that renewables are important while conceding they'll end up continuing with fossil fuel power. The Conservatives also claim they've overseen the 'greenest government ever' in their manifesto, but that's only thanks to their investment in nuclear power which has plenty of ethical and environmental concerns in itself.
However, the numbers speak for themselves. Hydro-electric power is currently the only renewable energy capable of replacing fossil fuels and it's about time we had a party in government that's going to get serious about cutting the UK's carbon footprint.
Simon Thomas is the Managing Director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer of large diameter plastic pipes. Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries, from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework: www.weholite.co.uk