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Why are energy firms U-turning on green agenda now?

Lobbying group has been on wrong side of carbon debate for far too long, so should we really believe that this is more than just words?

The decision by Britain’s most powerful energy lobby group to take a positive stance on building a low-carbon economy is a significant moment.

It gives major impetus to the green agenda just as it is being undermined by influential sceptics inside the Conservative party, Treasury and Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Since the Tories took full control of the energy agenda in spring last year there has been a bonfire of much-needed subsidies for wind and solar, using the excuse of customer “affordability”.

The comment from Lawrence Slade, the boss of Energy UK, that he believes Britain needs an Energiewende (German low-carbon energy transformation) is like holding up garlic to the vampires on the Tory backbenches who have been pushing for a go-slow on everything green.

Slade has not just made a few loose comments. He has produced a significant report, Pathways to 2030, undertaken with the help of accountants KPMG, about the need to help renewables, reduce energy demand and move away fast from some fossil fuels.

But do we believe this is more that just words? Has it really got the support of all his members? And why the U-turn now?

In the end these are indeed just words on a page and do not, for instance, commit companies to build much-needed power stations: British Gas parent Centrica admitted recently that it had zero investment in new plants.

As a statement of intent though, it is very important even if, as Slade has hinted, not every one of his members supports it as strongly as others.

The change in attitude is probably due to several factors: the Paris climate change talks; new personnel (Slade took over recently from the “traditionalist” former Conservative minister Angela Knight and Centrica has swapped its boss too); and a realisation that Energy UK has been on the wrong side of a carbon argument for too long.

Will it stop the big six overcharging retail customers or other abuses? No. Is it an important step for the industry?  Yes.

Terry Macalister  is energy editor of the Guardian.  He has been employed at the paper and website for 12 years and previously worked for the Independent and other national titles

The Guardian



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