Today marks a retreat from a triumph of the Thatcher era. The Energy Bill we consider today will rip up the world-leading competitive energy market bequeathed by Lady Thatcher and Lords Parkinson and Spicer, her ministers who privatised electricity.
Instead we will institute a rigged market where the government will pick technologies by allocating varying levels of subsidy on the say-so of civil servants. In the main, rather than hand out taxpayer funds directly, the government will authorise others to load charges on to electricity bills. For EDF, the French state-owned company many see as the only credible supplier of new nuclear plants, this could mean adding many tens of billions over the odds to our electricity bills, for decades to come, nodded through with next to no further parliamentary scrutiny under the terms of this Bill.
When I took part in Any Questions a few weeks ago I was astonished to hear other panellists airily dismiss such costs, saying ‘it would only be an extra £100 a year’ and that ‘it will represent excellent value’, as if they never knocked on constituents’ doors . This budget-line – DECC’s levy-funded spending which the Office for National Statistics commendably categorises as public spending despite it being added to electricity bills – will rise almost five-fold from £2.1bn last year to £9.8bn by 2020. That is an even faster rate of growth than for overseas aid or our contribution to the EU budget!
Moreover, that is not even all the ‘green energy’ related spending, much of which seems to be hidden elsewhere. In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor authorised an extra £16 or so on electricity bills to build extra gas-fired power stations that would not usually need to be used, but could be activated if there were capacity problems, e.g. if the wind does not blow. This week OFGEM has told National Grid it can add another £15 to household bills (with £8.50 of it kicking in next year) to upgrade its infrastructure – in addition to the £53 it is already imposing. A significant proportion of this is to link renewable energy generation in rural areas to larger population centres.
For families on limited incomes these continual extra imposts add up. Every year more and more families fall into so-called fuel poverty where more than 10% of income is spent on energy bills. MPs can choose tomorrow how to vote on legislation which will facilitate further such costs.
Some of our constituents will be choosing whether to heat the house or buy Christmas presents.