Britain may laugh (or squirm) at the amount of dirt and dishonesty the US Presidential election is sinking of into. It is hard not to. But Britain has as much dirt and sleaze of its own to worry about. This has nothing to do with the private lives (or lusts) of MPs, but about our longstanding addiction to dirt.
On and off camera, Britain's richest corporate polluters continue to procure the most licentious public policies money can buy. A 'freedom to Frack' and the Heathrow/Gatwick expansion are just the latest examples.
Forget your notions of local democracy, climate duties or devolved decision making. When corporate donors come knocking on the Downing St. door, climate obligations go out the window,. Democratic rights do too. Instead, a 'polluters right to pollute' steps over the threshold only to re- emerge, later, dressed up as an overriding national interest.
Faced with an array of criticisms that Britain will not meet its 2020 renewable energy or carbon reduction targets, Theresa May's government quietly removed the climate remit given explicitly to any of the new Secretaries of State. Labour has then struggled to appoint a specific Shadow Secretary of State, to hold the government to account, because such responsibilities are now scattered like confetti after a wedding.
Pandering to such lobbying is a British version of the Trump dictum; if you're rich enough 'you can do what you want', in this case with the planet. With or without a Tic-Tac in its mouth, it is a feudal right that Britain's polluters have long laid claim to.
Clearing the air
Back in the 1960's, it took thousands of deaths, and hundreds of thousands of lives (blighted by chronic bronchitis) before Britain found the courage to pass its Clean Air Acts. It did so in the face of industry cries that the Acts would turn Britain into an industrial wasteland. The Acts forced polluters to clean up production. Industry didn't die. And, consequently, fewer people did.
We look back on this now and call it 'progress'. But at the time it was a raw battleground between societal rights and industrial lobbying.
Today, another 'dirty' is in charge. Fossil fuel lobbying still persuades Ministers to throw taxpayer subsidies at dirty habits. The 75% capital allowances 'write-off' promised to Fracking will make the public pay for explorations it doesn't even want. But the picture gets worse the more you look at it.
Theresa May is systematically turning British government into an all embracing 'Ministry of Dirty Thoughts'; a parody closer to Harry Potter than Donald Trump. As the Dolores Umbridge of her day, the PM is systematically removing all things 'clean' from the Hogworts syllabus, entrenching Britain's dependence on polluting energy consumption.
The Ministry of Dirty Thoughts
Under her stewardship, all energy saving programmes are being marginalised. Britain's fuel poverty programme lies abandoned and in tatters; the zero-carbon homes commitment has been dumped; Feed-in-Tariff payments for clean energy are slashed to a standstill, tax allowances to community energy co-ops withdrawn; and now she threatens to introduce a 6-8 fold increase in the rate charges levied on businesses that have installed solar roofs. Everything 'clean' is being obstructed so the Dark Arts can prosper.
The Paris Agreement now barely makes it into Britain's curriculum. And the priorities given to May's Departmental 'dementors' are to suck the life out of anything that threatens the power of the Dark energy Lords that fund her Party.
Punishing the virtuous
Even Britain's energy Regulator, Ofgem is joining the purge; proposing to charge households with solar roofs an additional 'premium' because they don't use the Grid as much as others. This may sound bizarre, but their Chief Executive openly says he is
"… worried that people who can afford to install solar panels and generate their own power for much of the day may end up not paying their fair share of the costs of the UK’s electricity pylons and cables…
Adding, “…If people all go off grid, the phrase has sometimes been used that there will be a ‘death spiral’; that you’ll end up with some bizarre example that there’s only one person left paying the entire cost of the network."
This is, of course, a nonsense. One person in Britain will not end up paying the whole cost of maintaining the national Grid. But it highlights the bigger issue that Dolores Umbridge is desperate to obscure.
Britain's existing energy industry really is locked into a 'death spiral'.
Ofgem may want to make the public pay for the stranded assets energy companies will be left with, but it won't stop the process. Nothing made this clearer than the recent Bloomberg 'energy markets' appraisal;1 with two images putting everything in a nutshell.
1 Michael Liebreich, https://www.bbhub.io/bnef/sites/4/2016/10/2016-10-11-BNEF-EMEA-Summit-ML-Keynote.pdf
The European costs of both solar PV and onshore wind have been tumbling like stones; their adoption all the faster where they are locally/collectively owned. A similar story is unfolding in relation to the cost of energy storage.
What follows will be the emergence of new networks of local 'clean' energy companies; using local energy systems that store and save as naturally as they produce and share. Cities will become 'virtual' power stations, towns develop local grids and communities 'micro' ones. Few will be independent of the Grid, but the networking process will be radically different…and the Dark Lords know it.
Big, dirty, energy will become a sea of stranded assets. Their lobbyists know it too. So Dolores has become their last hope.
Britain's tragedy would be to believe that this somehow makes us more virtuous than America. In truth, each is knee-deep in its own 'dirty' politics. Both need to find a way out…and quick.
Alan Simpson October 2016