Huhne is out. His successor has not yet done a morning’s work. Which means there is a window of opportunity to reshape energy policy in the UK.
Energy taxes and the erection of agonisingly costly wind-turbines, so beloved of Mr Huhne, could both be reviewed to help British businesses save money during the economic slump.
Wind turbines will be the first policy to be reviewed. And with good reason.
Huhne’s long term vision was to build 32,000 turbines over the next 20 years, including 6,000 onshore.
According to the Oxford academic Dieter Helm this would cost £100bn by 2020, plus £40bn to connect the windmills to the grid.
This comes to £5,600 for every household in the country. Huhne said the cost would be paid by households in the form of higher bills – £89 now, rising to £280 by 2020 – a consumption tax which will result in lower economic growth rates.
The problem is that windmills are alleged to be grossly cost-inefficient.
The tireless campaigning journalist Christopher Booker, sworn enemy of Huhne and his turbines, reckons output for wind turbines is a fraction of the headline figure normally quoted. For example, the average output for UK offshore wind turbines is only 30 per cent of total capacity.
This means, says Booker, that wind farm power is 22 times more expensive than gas-fired power generated, for example, by the new 882MW plant in Plymouth.
The aesthetic debate is potent too. The tiny rural village of Winwick in Northamptonshire, is battling a plan by E.ON to build seven 410 foot turbines.
The war between the energy company and the residents is being played in dozens of locations across the UK – a conflict which is costly for them and painful for the energy companies which are merely trying to comply with government quotas.
Other things the incoming energy secretary could tackle is making it easier to switch energy supplier.
Jonathan Elliott of utility comparison service MakeitCheaper.com tells us:
“Chris Huhne said he wanted to see more people switching supplier to get a better deal and the new energy secretary has an opportunity to be decisive in making this happen. For example, there are a couple of simple things that could help more businesses switch like forcing suppliers to print contract end dates on bills and sending renewal letters by recorded delivery.
“If the job goes to Ed Davey, who’s currently a business minister, then there’s a chance of seeing this sort of thing happen.”
The incoming energy secretary could also tackle absurd air tariffs. This will require working with environment.
All energy policies could be placed under review. The energy industry is already frenetic with speculation.
Managing director of Orchard Energy, Gareth Henderson, tells us: “Any change of regime presents an opportunity for fresh discussion and debate and this has to be welcomed, particularly as energy often represents the second biggest overhead for businesses.”
“Much more could be done to reduce the cost of power to help British industry, particularly big users in manufacturing and retail.”
If ever British businesses could lobby for a reduction in the massive energy taxes they must struggle under, the hour is now.
PS: Charlie Mullins, the entrepreneur behind Pimlico Plumbers, contacts us to say:
“If anyone in business thinks that today’s resignation of Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary will change the climate as far as energy prices and emission fines they would have to be completely off their heads.
“Whatever the truth of the allegations this is a colossal waste of public money, on what looks like a domestic dispute to me, but politically it’s not going to make an iota of difference as far as government policy on energy prices.
“If, as expected, Mr Huhne is replaced by party colleague Ed Davey, we will be replacing one slightly roguish, independently minded Lib Dem with another. And much as it makes good newspaper copy to suggest we should take ‘tea with the Taliban’, it’s cloud cuckoo land stuff to imagine fuel prices are likely to plummet, and Emissions Zones will be scrapped just because the name on the office door has!”