I never thought I would be writing this. However, having consulted both manifestos, it is only fair to admit that the Greens have spelled out a more detailed and reasonable energy policy than Labour.
Labour’s stated energy policy is extremely lightweight – light on the details, heavy on the hand waving. It does not help that their manifesto is a crazy disorganised mess, with vague statements on energy scattered throughout the document. The bulk of Labour’s energy policy is contained within a section bizarrely titled “Mending the markets that people rely on”. The Greens’ by contrast is easy to find and exactly where you would expect it – “Energy and the climate”. Score one for the Greens.
The big news for Labour’s energy policy is this: “a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030”. The Greens have committed to a full decarbonisation of the economy by 2050. Whilst one could quibble over the difference between effective decarbonisation of the electricity supply and the economy, they effectively refer to the same end point – no heavy industry will remain in the UK with an expensive and intermittent energy supply. This means the Greens have a lead of 20 years on Labour to achieve this goal, making it a much more reasonable (to the extent that fully decarbonized energy can be seen as “reasonable”) target. Score two for the Greens.
How will each party achieve this target? Labour’s manifesto doesn’t explicitly say. We have to infer from a statement in the next paragraph what they intend:
“We will create an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the energy mix we need, including renewables, nuclear, green gas, carbon capture and storage, and clean coal.”
A decarbonised energy supply by 2030 is flat out impossible with gas and coal in the mix. Labour can use fluffy terms like “green” and “clean” as much as they like, this does not transfer to viable policy. Carbon capture and storage still remains an unproven technology and is already proving ruinously expensive to attempt implementing. Labour’s policy is pure fantasy and, if enshrined in law, would be like a Climate Change Act on steroids, beating the energy sector to a complete pulp.
The Green’s proposals, while only marginally less fantastic, are at least more detailed and specific. They rule Nuclear power out completely and shift the entire onus onto renewables. Whilst there is simply no way (with current technologies) for the Greens to provide for base load electricity, their policy is more realistic than Labour’s for one simple reason: the Greens emphasise local energy production.
The intermittent vicissitude of renewable energy supply could at least in principle be managed much more effectively on a locally (rather than centrally) managed basis. The local economy would simply adapt. This would mean a return to conditions barely better than medieval times, but it at least makes more sense than Labour’s completely impossible and contradictory guff. Score three for the Greens.
What about fuel poverty? The Greens explicitly address it, even going so far as to point out that the UK has “the highest level of fuel poverty in Western Europe” and that many people face the conundrum of whether to ‘heat or eat’. Whilst they obviously do not understand the cause and effect at work at work here, at least the issue is raised . Labour don’t even mention it. Not once.
Instead, Labour flaps about with “We will help with household bills freezing energy prices until 2017, while reforming the broken energy market.” How will they reform it? Again they don’t really make this explicit. However they do say a few pages later that “[t]he generation and supply businesses of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies will be separated”. So they’ll freeze prices (after having made production eye-wateringly expensive), interfere even more and remove the energy generators’ remaining profitable venture – transmission. What company in their right mind would be interested in that? We won’t have affordable energy, we’ll have no energy.
The Greens on the other hand state that energy poverty will be tackled through local production, insulation, and energy efficiency. They go into significant detail on the latter. Again, their aspirations remain unrealistic and ignorant of how their own policies generate fuel poverty and yet they remain more consistent, and mildly more practical than Labour’s. Score four for the Greens.
Finally, what about Fracking? If you explicitly search for it in Labour’s manifesto, you won’t find it. That is because Labour cunningly call it something else. It is referred to as “onshore unconventional oil and gas”. Labour promises “a robust environmental and regulatory regime” to monitor it. Again, light on specifics and absolutely no clue as to how they see this fitting into the UK’s energy mix.
Labour’s manifesto is desperately trying to court Green voters, though it has done so – and this is an understatement – completely ham-fistedly. I don’t think the completely nonsensical proposal to “put climate change at the heart of foreign policy” is going to be convincing to anyone (seriously – WTF?). And don’t think potential Green voters haven’t spotted the sleight-of-hand reference to fracking. The Greens leave no doubt on this – they are completely opposed to fracking. End of story. On the grounds of clarity alone, the Greens race ahead. That’s five to them now.
Both Labour’s and the Greens’ energy policies will completely screw us over. It is a mystery as to why so much emphasis has been given in the media so far to Labour’s laughable claims of promised economic competence when there will be no affordable energy to run the economy with in the first place. However, at least the Greens give remarkable levels of consistent detail as to how they will screw us. Labour’s stream of consciousness manifesto on the other hand just looks like comprehensive clown-dancing.