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Ewing demands a Rudd u-turn. He should do the same thing

Terry MurdenFor a brief period it looked as though the UK was finally getting a proper energy policy. Targets on climate change,  a unique investment bank to support costly infrastructure projects and a hint of commitment to renewing the nuclear plants.

Let’s not kid ourselves. What looked like a coherent strategy is fast turning into a mish-mash of u-turns and muddled thinking.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd kicked off the shift in strategy by pulling the plug on subsidies for onshore windfarms, arguing she was fulfilling a party manifesto commitment. In the process she caused widespread discontent and alarm throughout the sector. Projects have been canned, investors scared away and jobs lost.

Last week two solar power companies in England felt the cold draught of the Conservative government’s change of direction over renewables.

It claims it is still committed alternative to carbon producing energy sources and that its decisions reflect the maturity of these sectors and their ability to operate without subsidy.

Try telling that to the companies that are closing the gates and sending people home.

On Monday the Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing will be in London to appeal for a rethink and to remind Ms Rudd and her government that the industry is suffering right through the supply chain.

He may be pushing at a slightly open door. There are those within government who say it never expected to win in May and will admit that the onshore wind pledge was an election sop to Tory supporters who did not want to see the countryside scarred by windmills. Despite Ms Rudd’s decision to go ahead with removing the Renewables Obligation, she is said to be open to discussion.

Meanwhile, Mr Ewing is not off the hook himself. His government’s refusal to countenance nuclear, or fracking – and now underground coal degasification (UCG) – and instead put all its energy eggs in the renewables basket, has come badly unstuck.

By next summer two of Scotland’s coal-power stations will have gone – Cockenzie already and Longannet next Spring. Wave power has failed to make the desired breakthrough and now onshore wind is in jeopardy.

No wonder Mr Ewing last week hinted at leaving his own door slightly ajar to those wanting to develop unconventional gas projects. After extending the fracking moratorium to UCG, his statement went on to say: “We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies”.

Mr Ewing is right to press Ms Rudd for a change of mind. He should do the same thing.

 

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