Magazine article Public Finance

Tilting at Wind Turbines

Magazine article Public Finance

Tilting at Wind Turbines

Article excerpt

Tony Blair is not going quietly. He is determined to show that, unlike previous third-term prime ministers, he is still ready, even eager, to take big long-term decisions affecting Britain's future.

For Blair, the best proof of his continuing political vitality is the string of announcements made over the past year: expanding Patient Choice and diversity of provision in health; creating semi-independent trust schools in the current Education Bill; the plan for the long-term future of pensions; committing to replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent; and, above all, proposing far-reaching changes in energy policy.

Energy has moved to the centre of the political agenda, not only domestically, but also internationally, at summits of European leaders and the annual meetings of Group of Eight leaders.

So last Tuesday's energy review was hardly a surprise. Blair had largely foreshadowed its main conclusions over the past few months, so much so that the trade and industry select committee complained that the prime minister had already made up his mind.

Blair has been unapologetic, almost glorying, in having changed his mind, only three years after the 2003 white paper was sceptical about nuclear power and left the question open, pending a broad public debate.

But now, as Blair told the liaison committee of the chairs of select committees, on July 4: 'I will be absolutely open with you, I have changed my mind.' His argument, much disputed by many in the green lobby, rests on a combination of new trends in the energy market and increased worries over climate change.

Energy prices have risen sharply in response to growing demand from China and India, while Europe has become increasingly dependent on supplies of oil and gas from the unstable Middle East and from a more assertive Russia.

Consequently, Blair concluded that: 'It is difficult for me to see, on the basis of the evidence now, that we can have secure energy supplies or tackle climate change effectively without replacing our nuclear power stations.'

The government's review covered much more than nuclear power. Much of its focus was on how to achieve Britain's target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. This is linked to concerns that the Britain's gas imports will rise from 10% to 90% by 2020 unless action is taken. Over the same period, many nuclear power stations - currently meeting 19% of Britain's energy needs - will have to be phased out. Without new plants, the nuclear share would fall to about 6% over the next 20 years. …

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