UKIP has its first MP and looks set to get more.  This is good news for our democracy for a number of reasons.  I’ve set out my top five:

1.  UKIP is consistently polling around 20% and won the largest share of the vote in the most recent national election (the Euros).  A party with that level of support should have some say in our formal national politics.  It will also make them one of the ‘Westminster Parties’ so a welcome change in rhetoric should be forthcoming.

2.  UKIP is attracting many people who have not been engaged in politics before and/or have not voted before.  Bringing more people into the national conversation about our future is an unequivocally good thing.  I may not agree with what they are saying, but that makes for a more engaging debate and a healthier democracy.  The dangers lie for those who are not comfortable engaging in the debate directly.

3.  UKIP will shake up the mainstream.  Both Labour and the Conservatives lost touch with their ‘core vote’ a long time ago.    Neither the policies, nor the personalities were designed to suit, in Labour’s case, a white working class vote becoming detached from mainstream society or,  in the Tories’ case, the Eurosceptic social conservatives alienated by modernity.  These groups now have a party to take their strangely similar agenda on Europe and immigration forward.   Either Labour and the Conservatives move their policies to reengage, or admit that they can not deliver for these demographics and suffer the electoral consequences.  Both will claim they have done the former.  In doing so they risk splitting from centre-leaning voters and ‘core voters’ may still take UKIP in any case.

4.  UKIP is reminding the other parties that politics can be as much about people as policies.  Even those that find his views uncomfortable would accept that Farage has been by far the most successful leader in British politics over the past twelve months (particularly since Salmond’s train hit the buffers), repeatedly exceeding expectations and confounding critics.  Carswell’s win in Clacton was credited to his personality and record as a local MP as much as the colour of his rosette.    These two are by no means anti-establishment characters, but they are plausible and persuasive personalities and that’s enough to win votes.  Watching Patrick O’Flynn sneering on Question Time last week made me wonder if a few charmless mugs might yet hinder UKIP’s rise.

5.  Long-term, a strong UKIP performance with pressure from Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and Greens will eventually kill first past the post.  It is one thing for one party to poll 23% and get 8% of MPs, but for three or four parties to be locked out of the national parliament by geographical spread of votes is surely not sustainable.   We need a parliament that represents our views as a nation – that requires a proportional system of some sort.  Perhaps AV was the wrong system poorly explained, but if UKIP perform as well as expected in 2015 the case for electoral reform will never be stronger.   If they help bring about that reform, it will be, perhaps, UKIP’s most valuable gift to our democracy.

History tells us that nationalism can be a positive part of the democratic mix when it’s an insurgent force; it’s when it takes power that you need to worry.

Those that disagree with UKIP’s simplistic politics of blame and isolationist agenda on Europe need to vote to ensure that nationalism stays a long way from the UK government.  At the same time let’s recognise the positive impacts of UKIP’s arrival on the main stage for our democracy.

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I know I’m in a minority of people who watch political speeches and amongst an even smaller number who get inspired by them.  To admit to being impressed by Nick Clegg puts me in a very narrow niche indeed.

But despite being a little weary of the Glasgow conference I thoroughly enjoyed the leader’s speech.

Clegg was clear, thoughtful and passionate.  He set out a vision of liberalism that was, to me at least, plausible and persuasive.  Ideas like waiting targets for mental health patients show that the party still has the ability to lead on important issues that would otherwise be crowded out.   This is the radical edge that has been so difficult to detect through the straightjacket of coalition.  Here it was again – absolutely brilliant policy and sharp enough to cut through in the media.

It was also great to see there was ample room for the repeated commitment to the five green laws that we’ll have in the manifesto.  This is a key part of the Lib Dem agenda that does not always get high enough billing.  Here it was rightly ranking alongside a tax pledge and the arms race on NHS spending.

All the core strands of Lib Dem DNA were there – fighting to protect civil liberties, education and opportunity for the many not the few, tax cuts for low earners paid for by those that can afford to pay a little more.  Internationalist in foreign affairs and committed to wholesale and extensive devolution of powers from Whitehall on the domestic front.  Fiscal responsibility with a social conscience.

There is increasing room for a rational, reformist, centre-ground agenda in British politics.  Here was a leader pitching that liberal vision for the next election with energy and determination.  It was the best speech I’ve seen from him.

I received the news of the Scottish ‘No’ to independence on NRJ, the French pop radio station.  A scheduled news bulletin announcing that the painful divorce I had hoped that Scots would reject, sandwiched symbolically between bursts of Ed Sheeran and Emile Sande.
Any pangs of disappointment at being on holiday for a monumental constitutional moment at home were tempered by the knowledge that (a) I had no say in the matter and (b) I’d had a complete guts full of divisive nationalist rhetoric.

Now we have the result what have we learned?

Here are my take-aways:

1. Referenda should not be played out over 18 months.  Putin was a bit punchy with the one week Crimea heist, but stringing out a decision like this does not help the electorate get to the absolute truth, but does allow the arguments to become very bitter.  The prospect of a 2 year build-up to a Euro referendum under a Tory government fills me with dread.

2. Nationalism presented with charisma is as seductive as ever.  Throughout history talented leaders have convinced millions of people that simply by dividing people on national lines, pedaling the politics of them and us, they can make the world a better place for the chosen few.  In a time of austerity it’s even more tempting to close ranks and look for someone to blame and Salmond (and Farage) make simple arguments that resonate.

3.  We need a better solution for the British constitution.  Federalism has been Lib Dem policy for many years, ‘home rule’ has been on our agenda since the 1880s.  These concepts are now getting traction in the mainstream and we should seize the moment to deliver a properly devolved federal constitution.  Devo-max can progress immediately, but in the long-term only by addressing the fundamental problem of over-centralisation through a federalist constitutional settlement will the nationalist fox be well and truly shot.

4.  Labour is losing its grip of Scotland.  It may not play out fully in one general election, but hundreds of thousands of traditional Labour voters are happy to vote nationalist which may have a long-term impact on Labour’s ability to gain a majority.  Although it was (on paper) a single issue referendum, the Yes campaign played heavily on the potential for an independent Scotland to deliver a government consistently to the left of the current Labour party.  Many voters clearly rejected Labour in favour of a more socialist flavour and they may do so again in a general election.

5.  People care about politics.  It has been fashionable to think that people are too apathetic to give time to politics.  The referendum has turned that on its head bringing people out on the streets campaigning for what they believe in and to persuade others to support their cause.  That is politics at its best and it shows that if we ask important questions the public can be energised by politics.  We now need to find a way to harness that energy for unifying and progressive goals, rather than waiting for the jeopardy of a referendum.

A417 Faringdon Public Meeting 5

I opened the meeting by handing over the petition against the closure with over 1000 signatures

The petition against the closure of the A417 (with over 1000 signatures) was presented to Oxfordshire County Council at a packed public meeting on 22nd July.  A very constructive discussion followed.

In particular, some important new details came to light:

20140722_191811

NR Director Robbie Burns took the audience through the reasons for the closure

20140722_192122

A slide summarised the reasons why a temporary bridge would not be offered for Challow

– a second road bridge at Challow would cost £1.4m more than the closure solution, for which Network Rail does not have funding sanctioned by its regulator.  To challenge this we need to address the Office of Rail Regulation who set NR’s budget;

– NR recognised the additional burden in terms of petrol costs (in particular) being placed on local people’s shoulders (a figure of £7m was suggested).  Again they suggested we take this up with ORR or national politicians who have decided that the works should go ahead and not agreed funding for a suitable compensation package;

– NR would not have agreed to a new bridge at Grove if it had the information on cost and impact to programme it has now;

– cyclists will be able to cross the replacement pedestrian Challow bridge as well as pedestrians;

– there will be no other scheduled maintenance work by OCC on the diversion routes during the diversion (this does not mean utilities won’t be working);

– due to the sequencing of the works more manpower won’t speed up the programme, though they are considering increasing evening/weekend working if it is shown to save time.  Closing the railway for longer is not an option.

– Road closure signs will have emergency Network Rail numbers to call in the event of a problem on one of the diversions.

– Diversionary routes (even the optional ones) will be gritted.

There were also two new ideas/offers:

– NR will pay for a bus  to transport people from either side of the closure to the other side (to be reviewed if it is not utilised);

– the NR Director will meet residents and the Councillor for Kingston Lisle to drive the ‘optional’ diversionary one-way system and establish what improvements can be made to the scheme.

There remain some gaps in our understanding:

20140722_195122

Preserving school bus routes was raised as a major issue, as yet unresolved.

– Oxfordshire County Council did not give full responses on the provision to be made for school buses, and in particular SEN transport.  We await more information from the school bus companies/OCC when plans are finalised for the new term;

20140722_195854

A resident of Kingston Lisle describes the issues facing the village

–  it was not clear when and why the Kingston Lisle and Denchworth ‘optional’ aspects of the diversion scheme would be brought into action.  It just seems that OCC will make a call if the traffic in these areas gets ‘really bad’.

– a pledge from OCC to fill pot-holes and clear drainage ditches on diversion routes before the closure happens was offered in quite a half-hearted manner, suggesting that the amount of work considered necessary by residents may not be undertaken in time for the diversion.

Credit goes to Network Rail who brought the right people to answer the questions, including Robbie Burns, the regional Director and Faringdon resident, and a representative from Murphy (the contractor) to explain the technical detail of the bridge works.

One of the most important outcomes from the meeting was the realisation on the part of Network Rail that this was the sort of meeting that they should have proposed in the first place (and a long time ago).  NR felt that the opportunity to set out their plans in detail and take questions was extremely valuable.  They intend to adopt this approach to bridges further down the line. They appreciated the opportunity to engage with the public.

We hope that as a result of the petition and the turn-out at the meeting, Oxfordshire County Council feel the same, and that they will take the initiative to engage with the public in Steventon on their planned closure.  It’s regrettable that the initial feedback from Councillors has not been positive with comments they made during and after the meeting attracting complaints and causing offence to meeting participants.  These will be taken up directly.

Though this leaves a sour taste, I am determined to stay positive.   Receipt of the petition has been acknowledged and we await a formal reponse from the Council.  I will therefore close the petition, and send a final update once we have the that response.

Many thanks to everyone that supported the petition and the meeting.  We may not have the solution we want, but I hope we have moved the discussion forward in a constructive way and gained some important insights and concessions.

If you have any further questions that you would like me to take up with OCC or NR on this issue, please don’t hesitate to email me on: alex@brightgreendragon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A417 Petition PicNetwork Rail has released its formal application for closure of the A417. The NR proposal raises a number of important questions:

1. The closure is scheduled for 6th September for ‘approximately 4 months’. The lack of certainty is ominous – how confident are Network Rail that they can complete the works within the four months (which already seems excessive)?

2. The diversion plans show (as expected) that the main diversion will be via the A420/A415/A338. These roads are already overcrowded and jammed at peak times. The A338 will be dealing with the upgrades to its bridge at the same time so welcoming up to 7000 additional vehicles will be a huge challenge for those using the road.

3. There is a one-way ‘mitigation option’ through Kingston Lisle, but it is not clear when/if it will be brought into action (described as ‘if required’). This idea appears to have been drawn on a map with a felt-tip, so one wonders how much consideration this plan has actually received.

4. Denchworth is marked as ‘Access Only’ but again it is hard to tell whether there will be a serious attempt to protect small villages with single track roads from the inevitable attempts to cut through in both directions.

It is ridiculous that we have been put in this position – Network Rail has had 5 years to come up with a way to upgrade the bridge without closing the road. The idea that the ‘only viable option’ is a 4 month complete closure is unconvincing. Also the idea that this work will be completed on schedule through the winter seems unlikely to me. On a procedural level I am also disappointed by the apparent way that OCC officers cut a deal with NR to close this bridge in exchange for a new bridge on the A338.

The public meeting at 7pm on 22nd July at Faringdon Corn Exchange has been called to give everyone a chance to discuss the proposal, get more detail on the mitigation solution and to give their views as to whether OCC should approve the application. This should be a ‘consultation’ after all!

A Senior Programme Manager from Network Rail will be there, along with the OCC Cabinet Member for Transport. I will take the opportunity to present our petition against the closure. We now have nearly 900 signatures, which is fantastic – thank you for your support. If we can raise 1000 by the time of the meeting that would be even more compelling.

The public meeting is the last chance to put forward your views on this road closure with all key stakeholders present. Please do come to the meeting and make sure your views on this closure are heard.

A417 Meeting 7pm 22 July 2014

I’m no Michael Portillo, but it’s fair to say that I have a massive soft spot for trains.  The civilised, efficient service that we enjoy in most parts of the country most of the time is by far my first choice to get from A to B.   Also living in Oxfordshire, with my parents being in Wales, and my mother-in-law in Cornwall the vast majority of my rail trips are on the Great Western lines.

I have no reason to doubt that the electrification of the Great Western line will bring a more reliable and quicker service to those areas.

However, that does not mean that I, or anyone else, should let Network Rail have the run of the countryside in carrying out their upgrade works.  The potential impact of the bridge closures in Oxfordshire (and I dare say further down the line once the works begin) will be dramatic.

For communities like Faringdon in rural Oxfordshire there is no plausible alternative to car travel.  Even people like me who love trains remain reliant on cars, since we have no station and very limited bus services.   The increased flexibility and reliability of car travel have allowed more people to feel comfortable living further away from jobs and services.  It has also allowed people who can’t find work locally to travel to take up jobs they might not otherwise have.  Therefore if a main road is suddenly closed, the impact is huge.

20140604_084432The proposal to close the A417 between Wantage and Faringdon for 4 months in the run-up to Christmas will have a dramatic effect on local people’s lives.  Extra petrol costs and extra childcare costs will make it even harder for working people, already struggling to make ends meet, while late arrival at work and home for months will put strain on employment and family relationships.

Cuts in home visits by carers or relatives who can’t get around as easily, and major difficulties for emergency services caused by a closure like this could result in increased suffering for the most vulnerable.

The economic impact on the businesses in the communities along the A417, as well as the inevitable reductions in visits to Faringdon and Wantage town centres, will be significant.

Therefore while I support the electrification of the Great Western line, Network Rail and Oxfordshire County Council must fund adequate replacement bridges to keep our rural roads and economies open.  6000 vehicle journeys on the A417 are not just travelling for fun – a 4 month closure will be a body-blow to the local area and will cause misery in surrounding villages who will suffer the worst effects of a diversion.

What is perhaps most disappointing about the situation is that neither Network Rail nor OCC have made any attempt to engage with the communities affected before notifying the press of their decision.  A consultation would have helped residents understand the issues and might have resulted in a less adversarial outcome.  Moreover, OCC’s website setting out the process to apply for a temporary road closure makes it clear:  It is in the public interest that we must process your application before it can be granted.

That application includes a consultation obligation, and therefore one wonders whether the way in which OCC has pre-approved Network Rail’s application may prejudice the application and make it legally unsound?

The decision by OCC to approve the closure of the A417, rather than force Network Rail to build a second bridge, is procedurally flawed and substantively barmy given the negative impact on the local economy.

The good news is that the petition against the decision is gathering strength, and local media are showing a keen interest in the issue. A417 BBCSouth Pic

Bad decisions have consequences, and the consequences for our community are too grave to allow the closure of the A417 to pass without a fight.  Until OCC do a deal with Network Rail that keeps the A417 open, we’ll keep fighting.

Remember ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’?  David Cameron promised to bring a progressive environmental agenda with him into Downing Street.  After four years in government Cameron has been reported to want to ‘cut the green crap’ and has allowed the Treasury to act accordingly.

Quite a turnaround.

The latest evidence of the complete abandonment of the green agenda by the Tories is the announcement that they would place a moratorium on onshore wind if they win a majority.  This move would destroy jobs and investment in the UK, and importantly will increase energy bills by increasing reliance on expensive offshore wind.

Still it seems a price worth paying if it somehow strengthens their right flank which is under attack from UKIP.   Concern for consumers, logic and sensible policy-making abandoned for political expediency.

But how deeply is this nonsense supported within the Conservatives.  I wanted to find out what my local Tory MP thought about it.   My exchange of letters below reveals:

(a) a complete disregard for the increased cost to consumers of the policy; and

(b) that local communities should have the final say on wind projects, running directly against the current Tory practice for Eric Pickles to decide renewable planning applications in Whitehall.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the Conservatives lack any interest in consumer bills, but the inconsistency in the rhetoric and the policy on localism is particularly disappointing. A suggestion for a slogan for the next election:

‘Vote Blue, Go Anywhere UKIP want us to’

Here are the letters in full:

Dear Ed,

I am writing urge you to contact those involved in writing the Conservative manifesto for the next General Election, to warn them of the cost of not supporting the onshore wind industry.

I am one of the nearly 19,000 people in this country whose job is connected to the onshore wind industry, so the thought that a moratorium could be imposed on future development of onshore wind is of great concern to me. This coupled with anti-democratic powers taken by Secretary of State Eric Pickles to “call in” planning decisions for onshore wind projects, irrespective of the recommendation made by local planners, is threatening jobs.

As I’m sure you are aware,  onshore wind is the lowest cost low carbon generation that it’s possible to develop at scale – cheaper than other renewables and new nuclear, and without it – we would need to rely on more costly options to meet our existing and binding 2020 & 2050 targets, risking driving up consumer bills, which nobody wants.

Decarbonisation aside, much of the UK’s current generation capacity is reaching the end of its life, and in view of our record levels of imports of coal and gas, developing onshore wind capacity in the UK will also reduce our reliance on imported energy source to keep the lights on.

Finally, much of the criticism of onshore wind seems to be because politicians think that voters do not support it. Whilst I recognise that some people do not like the look of turbines, a poll last year by the Mail on Sunday (http://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MailEnergyFinal.pdf) revealed that the overwhelming majority do. 60% of Conservative voters would be happy to have a windfarm in their area, as would nearly the same percentage of UKIP voters.  This also translates to the ballot box – one third of Conservative voters said they would be more likely to vote for a local candidate who backed wind farms in the area compared to 29% who would be less likely to. This, and another poll also revealed that three to one Britons would rather live near a wind farm than a fracking site (http://www.forexminute.com/fracking/poll-more-people-prefer-to-live-near-a-wind-farm-as-opposed-to-fracking-site-29021).

Playing politics with onshore wind leads to great uncertainty for people like me, but also the wider energy industry – on previous occasions when there have been political rows about onshore wind organisations like the Institute of Engineering and Technology and the CBI have warned about the dangers of an investment hiatus.

I would be very grateful if you could let me know your position on this important issue.  Further I urge you to contact your leader and the Conservative manifesto team to appraise them of my concerns, and include any feedback in your response.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Meredith
07592447794

Ps.  I have attached a stunning view of the Westmill site at Watchfield taken this weekend. In the right place, and on the right scale these facilities can add a huge amount to a landscape as well as providing jobs for the community.

Ed’s Response:

Dear Alex,

 

Thank you for your email about wind farms.

 

I recognise the need for renewable energy generation as part of a balanced energy mix. If we are to protect Britain’s energy security, cut emissions and ensure, long-term, affordable supplies of energy, renewable energy – alongside nuclear, gas and carbon capture and storage – is an important component of our energy future.

As one of the oldest renewables – and one of the least expensive – onshore wind makes its contribution to the UK energy mix. It now delivers power to four million homes. Under Coalition plans, it will deliver power to three million more by 2020.

This onshore wind power will help us meet our 2020 renewable energy targets, which are legally-binding under EU law.

However, while wind farms play an important role in supporting our renewable needs, I also appreciate that they can cause considerable consternation for many local communities.

This is why the next Conservative Government, having already delivered enough wind farms to secure our renewable energy targets, will give more power to local communities to have their say on wind farms and ensure more weight is given to the importance of the local environment and landscape.

 

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Ed Vaizey MP

Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries

Member of Parliament for Wantage and Didcot

 

www.vaizey.com | vaizeye@parliament.uk | 0207 219 6350

wind  Waves of announcements from energy companies, policy makers and regulators have been crashing in like Atlantic storms over the past few weeks.  This always seems to happen when I’m on holiday.  Our summer holiday saw Ed Miliband’s price freeze announcement to the Labour conference, which has now given way to a Spring break punctuated by an actual price freeze from SSE.

That sounds like good news.

But within SSE’s announcement was a rowing back on its commitment to offshore wind that will see it slash its large pipeline of projects.  The following day we saw Ofgem refer the big six to the Competition and Markets Authority, which was followed by a warning from Centrica boss of a ‘power generation investment hiatus‘.  gas

Yet Siemens clearly don’t agree.  They announced a £160m investment in a new port facility in Hull on Monday, heralding a ‘favourable framework for the expansion of  offshore wind energy’.  On that upbeat note, Green Investment Bank announced investments totaling £460m in two massive offshore sites.

And just when it became safer to go back into the water, there was trouble on land.   The Tories are planning an arbitrary cap on onshore wind development, forcing Nick Clegg  to block the policy creeping into the current government’s programme.

For me there seem to be three lessons to take from this flurry of announcements:

1. Commitments to investment in new UK generation capacity by the integrated utilities is unlikely to be on a significant scale in the medium term.  The exception could be EDF with Hinkley C, but RWE and Eon are struggling for capital as a result of the German energy transition.   Big plant will only be built with large chunks of capital from outside the big six.  Expect to see some unfamiliar names on the sides of the next generation of power plants and wind farms.

2.   Energy will remain highly political, with security of supply and cost of renewables as the primary sub-plots.  UKIP will push the anti-wind arguments about renewable subsidies and the Tories will tack right.  Labour will claim that the lights are about to go out next winter and the big six will say their hands are tied by the CMA investigation.  Lib Dems will continue to champion renewables.  Fracking (like CCS) is likely to remain a conveniently far-fetched solution that allows all parties to claim it as the answer they support.  3.  It is still not clear where the investments in 2016-2020 are coming from.   It Investmentmay be correct that the UK can manage supply through the interconnectors and capacity mechanism, but there does seem to be a rather long period when not much energy plant will get built in the UK.  That could have an impact on jobs and skills in the UK, particularly in offshore, where despite Siemens’ announcement the supply chain looks vulnerable if key projects do not progress.  If the longer term projects also get delayed as a result, keeping the lights on could become an even more difficult issue.

Faringdon’s roads are in a dreadful state.  They are dangerous for cyclists, and damaging to vehicles.  We are working hard to persuade Oxfordshire County Council to mend the holes in our roads.  Unfortunately OCC have told us that they are prioritising other parts of the county.  So there are no plans for work to be done in Faringdon in the near future.

To try and persuade OCC to do something in Faringdon, we want to find the worst potholes in Faringdon.

We are gathering pictures which we will send to OCC .   We hope OCC will listen to a clear message that we want investment in our roads and remember that Faringdon is as important as any part of the county – we deserve proper roads just as much as anyone else in Oxfordshire!

Here is my pick of some of the worst examples we’ve found so far……

Park Road:

PRAM4  PRAM3 PRAM2 PRAM1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRGW3PRGW2PRGW1Southampton Street:

SSGW2

SSCPGW1 Gloucester Street:

GSGW1 Coxwell Street:

CSGW1 CSAM1

Against an uncertain political and regulatory back-drop it has been difficult to finance and build established renewable plant like wind turbines, let alone bring new ideas and entrants to the renewable energy market.  There has long been talk of tidal being a ‘game-changing’ technology, yet with so much uncertainty no one has had the brains or the bottle to bring a scheme to planning.

That, if nothing else, makes the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay proposal that was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate today, remarkable.  1757066_Swansea-Bay-Tidal-Lagoon-WEB

 

 

With controversy as to the level (or even existence) of a subsidy mechanism raging around him, for three years Mark Shorrock and his team have worked away at the Swansea Bay scheme (which is intended to be followed by four other schemes around the coast).  The goal has been to find the solution to finally harness the power of one of the UK’s most obvious renewable energy sources – the tide.

Swansea Bay Lagoon has the potential to generate 420GWh of power per year with a capacity of 320MW.   It’s predictable, reliable, renewable energy for 120,000 homes, 14 hours a day for 120 years.  There are also loads of benefits for the local area, not just in terms of construction and operations jobs, but in terms of sports and leisure facilities and a long-term land(or maybe sea) mark to attract visitors to the area.  They are even planning an oyster farm.tidal-lagoon-swansea-bay-2

Not surprisingly, 86% of local people support the project.

Inevitably there will be complex planning issues to overcome with a project of this scale, but provided they have been adequately dealt with in the application, this project must surely receive a positive response (on the planning) from the Sec of State next year.

While that is going on, it’s all about the money.

There are two limbs to funding the project:  (i) getting an adequate subsidy from the government to make the revenues from power generated by the project attractive to investors; and (ii) convincing investors that the technical solution – ie. the double regulated bulb turbines – work so that the power will be consistently generated at the levels required to make the scheme profitable.  andritz-graphic

That is where my concern lies.  World firsts are fantastic stories for everyone except banks.  The fact that this has not been tried before will mean there will be queries over the technology.  If there is any doubt over the reliability or suitability of the turbine, or the long-term viability of the turbine manufacturer then the project may become difficult to finance.

I willing to be optimistic about this.  If Macquarie are backing the scheme then there must be a high degree of confidence that the turbines are ‘bankable’.  We will find out later this year.

At the same time as asking banks to take a risk, TLSB will need to make a strong enough case to persuade the Secretary of State to give up a mighty chunk of his renewable energy budget.  With EU state aid lawyers circling and fierce competition from other renewable techs for this subsidy money, that is not going to be easy.  The subsidy level will need to be agreed and signed before banks commit, so a protracted negotiation with the Sec of State may hit the project programme and put pressure on cash flows.

So there remain significant challenges for this project beyond planning.  However we should celebrate the achievement of Mark and his team in getting this smart, sustainable (and for energy geeks at least) sexy project to the planning stage.  All the political and social stars are aligned for this project.  It is only the planning and economic aspects to be resolved to begin construction.

Instead of sticking plaster adaptive measures like we are seeing in Somerset, the UK’s response to climate change should be big projects like Swansea Bay and its successors, as well as big offshore wind projects, nuclear and all the other parts of the low carbon energy mix.

Solutions to our energy needs like Swansea Bay are long overdue.

As Mark himself says:

“Had we invested in tidal lagoons in the 1980s, by now, and into the next century, we would be generating cheaper power than any other form of supply.”

dragon 5578237-large

LibDemsFaringdon Lib Dems are getting to work to ensure we have a Sustainable Faringdon.

That means:

i) a Sustainable level of Housing Development;

ii) delivering Sustainable Transport options;

iii) supporting local businesses to build a Sustainable Local Economy;

iv) Ensuring that there is a Sustainable provision of Public Services to meet our community’s needs.

We’ll be meeting at 7:30pm on 19th February at the Portwell in Faringdon  to discuss how we might deliver these objectives and others.

Come and join us if you would like to take part.

We are, as always, optimistic about creating a Sustainable Faringdon.

Sadly, indications this week show a distinct lack of support for a Sustainable Faringdon from our elected Tory representatives:

– in a meeting with local residents, Tory Oxfordshire County Councillor, Judith Heathcoat made clear that in three years, she has secured zero budget for delivering the Faringdon Transport Strategy.

– Tory District Councillors are unable to offer any transparency over the funding for community projects being discussed with developers of the Fernham Fields application.

– an email from Ed Vaizey (Tory MP for Wantage, Didcot & Faringdon) described the idea of a train station in Vale of White Horse as a ‘difficult call’.

So, plenty of work to do.  But we are keen to get started! Join us on 19th February to find out how we can combat this complacency and help deliver a Sustainable Faringdon.

The UK Government today launched its grand plan to help people with their energy bills.  Let me summarise.  There’ll be a change to the Warm Homes Discount (worth on average £12) and a reduction in the Energy Company Obligation (worth around £35).  The average bill will reduce by about £50, but that may be entirely consumed by price rises (based on rises in wholesale power and/or transmission costs) so there’s a good chance bills will rise anyway.

Are you still with me?

Probably not.  What about if I say “PRICE FREEZE” really loudly.  Oh, right that got your attention.  Now, how about your vote?

The manoeuvrings on energy in the past couple of weeks have been all about politics and very little about policy.

As the shouting match continues, for me there are two interesting points to come out of this episode:

i) If you have set up a system of qwerky, indirect taxes that have been sneaked onto energy bills (or anywhere else) to fund wonkish (but worthy) policy ideas, don’t be surprised that you don’t get much credit when you cut them. bill_1787240c

Taxation of energy is a cacophony of acronyms ECO, RO, CFP, WHD, the list goes on.  Would it be better (and more honest) to replace these with one ‘Green & Social Energy Tax’ or ‘Carbon & Insulation Levy’ that the bill-payer can relate to? This would make it very clear what the government can and cannot control in the energy bill and the specific policies could be set out in more detail for the enthusiast.

Maybe it is a question of form rather than substance, but when people are struggling to understand an important issue like energy bills, a note of simplification from government would be welcomed.

ii)  Focus on the political aspects of the bill is tinkering (£1 a week reduction is hardly cause for celebration).  Looking at the big ticket items in the bill would yield greater dividends.

For me, the key focus should be wires and pipes.

David Cameron has hinted that a look at the way in which distribution and transmission charges are regulated is overdue.    This seems to me to be the aspect that is most ripe for intervention.    In a competitive market, the process of generating power and selling it are both intrinsically commercial, and therefore suited to private companies.  Distribution on the other hand is a pure monopoly.

Having our wires and pipes owned by private companies creates a layer of commercial profit-taking that is completely unnecessary from a consumer’s perspective.  Bringing this aspect back into a company limited by guarantee, a ‘not-for-dividend’ entity within government control could be the most positive change for the electricity consumer, but it is so un-exciting that no-one wants to talk about it.

Looking at the farce of the train companies being split from the track owners tells us that simplistic atomisation of an industry will not necessarily improve efficiency or lower prices.  So it has proven with energy.  However, at least Network Rail is not run to pay dividends, is mandated to invest profits and is answerable to government.  Our energy systems would be more transparent and cheaper if the wires and pipes were owned by a non-commercial entity in the mould of Network Rail.

From there, we are only one step away from not-for-profit utilities.  Welsh Water  is owned by Glas Cymru, a single purpose companshutterstock_nonprofity run solely to benefit its customers.  It has shown it can be done in the water sector.  Should we be looking at this model more closely for power and gas as well as wires?  I’m not there yet, but I’m sure that the discussion of the future of our energy markets would be much enhanced if we looked at corporate models that were somewhere between pure private capital and nationalisation.