NOT all government legislation grabs headlines, but that doesn’t mean it is not important.
The Energy Bill currently passing through Parliament is a good example.
One of the central aims of the legislation is to help bring down our energy bills by reducing the cost of subsidies for wind turbines.
In my view, sensible energy policy should balance a few competing needs: reliable sources of energy that heat our homes when we need; keeping bills low; reducing our dependence on volatile foreign countries; and protecting our environment.
Our country has a strong record on generating more clean energy. Renewable energy tripled in the last parliament and emissions are coming down rapidly.
But our energy bills are high and renewable subsidies are contributing to that. Last year, our energy bills subsidised green energy by £3 billion. Renewables like onshore wind turbines are often more expensive and less reliable than conventional energy sources.
The Energy Bill ends subsidies for wind turbines a year earlier than originally planned. We now have a pipeline of wind projects that, by 2020, will pump out enough electricity to power 8.5 million homes. As a result, we can shift the balance back to reducing household bills (by up to £270 million a year) while still meeting all our renewable targets.
Wind turbines are often controversial for their obvious impact on our beautiful countryside. The proposed legislation shifts responsibility for approving new wind projects from Whitehall fully to local communities; this will ensure wind farms aren’t built in areas where they are not welcome.
Another important part of the Bill is the creation of an Oil and Gas Authority to, among other things, ensure the remaining reserves in the North Sea are fully exploited.
We have read a lot recently about the steel sector; our oil and gas industry is also suffering. The oil price has fallen from $110 a barrel to less than $30. Although welcome when we fill up our tanks, this has hugely impacted an industry employing 375,000 people. The industry recently paid enough tax to fund every single A&E unit and GP surgery in the UK, so when the industry suffers it affects all of us.
This new regulator will have powers to help companies reduce costs, work together better, and find new opportunities. In the last two years, we have only discovered 150 million new barrels—just 0.6% of the 24 billion barrels lying untapped in the North Sea.
The new regulator will be funded by industry and has been welcomed across the political spectrum. The hope is that it can help reverse the fortunes of the North Sea, and ensure that instead of declining, it becomes a beacon of growth and innovation.
If it succeeds this will improve our energy security, safeguard thousands of jobs, and protect the tax revenues that fund our public services.