DECC and Energy Trends (DECC Publications guide)
Given the norms of modern political contest, it is not surprising that at the last election in 2010 the three main parties offered almost identical energy policies — or rather, climate change and energy policies. Each promised an enormous shift to low-carbon electricity generation by 2020, with more to come by mid-century. Each promised a green bank and a massive increase in energy conservation. Each vowed to encourage carbon capture and storage projects, and to prevent construction of any but the cleanest coal-fired power stations.
The only disagreement was that Labour and the Tories both wanted to build new nuclear power stations, to which the Liberal Democrats were completely opposed. And there was one important aspect of Britain's energy on which all three party manifestos were silent: natural gas, which provides 40 per cent of the UK's primary energy and nearly half of its electricity generation.
A Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne, emerged as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. His three junior ministers are all Tories, but of the modern sort who seem not much interested in one of the great achievements of past Tory governments: the competitive and privatised gas markets. Nor do they seem to understand the problems with the unfinished liberalisation of the electricity market.
In office, Huhne initially maintained his party's anti-nuclear line, but the weight of Conservative and civil service opinion prevailed. Senior officials have long maintained the view that nuclear was the only way to keep the lights on and carbon emissions down.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is less than five years old, and was established not out of concern for Britain's energy as such, but to meet the prevailing public anxiety about carbon emissions and global warming. The old Energy Department, which had dealt with the growth of the North Sea, the miners' strike and the privatisation of power and gas, had been disbanded in 1992, its offices handed over to MI5 and its residual functions allocated to the Department for Trade and Industry. The degree of Labour government interest in energy matters can be judged by the fact that the portfolio was held by nine undistinguished junior ministers in 11 years.
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