Labour’s Green energy revolution

Dave Toke says Labour’s green energy plans are the surest sign yet that they are heading for Government 

Labour’s low cost and practical proposals for expansion of onshore and offshore wind, solar power, energy conservation and increases in renewable heat are the surest sign yet that they are the competent choice for Government. Their proposals need some elaboration in places and some work on detail, but seem to be in a different dimension compared to the Tory Government that seems increasingly certain to be heading for self-destruction on the anvil of Brexit.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is aiming for 85 per cent of electricity to come from low carbon power by 2030. This is an easily achievable target, and will be done at low cost if simultaneously Labour cancels the disaster-in-waiting project at Wylfa, and some way can be found to avoid Hinkley C being built.

There’s already enough offshore wind in the planning pipeline to ensure well over 50 per cent of electricity coming from renewables by 2025.

Labour’s plans for boosting offshore wind, onshore wind and solar PV will meet its 85 per cent of low carbon power by 2030, and, in doing so, also accommodate a substantial increase in transport and heating demand provided through electricity.

The Government could revivify the buildings insulation programme, reinstating the programme started by the last Labour Government but short-circuited by the useless and self-defeating so-called ‘Green Deal’.

Of course the Government will need to engender some much smarter thinking and regulation than is happening at present to integrate the coming expansion of electric cars. But this requires imagination rather than cost increases.

Although some see the target of providing over 40 per cent of heat demand from renewables as being problematic, we could go at least a long way towards this target in a way that rests heavily on Labour’s ideological strength in promoting municipal green socialism. Waiting in the wings is the developing technology in the form of industrial heat pumps. This, like a lot of other green technologies, is one that is declining in cost.

A Labour Government could empower local authorities to start up local green energy companies who would have a focus on developing community heating networks to be supplied with heating by industrial heat pumps. This technology, already being demonstrated in Denmark, operates by using electricity to turn energy in the air, ground or water into heat. The heat can be stored in hot water tanks so that it can be delivered when needed.

In short, there’s still some loose ends in Labour’s green energy proposals but the outline is good and getting to look more and more plausible in terms of practical measures.

Stealing Green Party clothes

Reading through the Labour Party green pledges you’d be forgiven that there’s a sort of transmission belt of ideas promoted by the Green Party and flowing into the Labour Party. This has left many Greens smarting, and they tend to react with a mixture of disbelief and pointing out that Labour still backs the extension of Heathrow Airport. However, looking at other policies one would definitely be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Labour are getting most of their policy ideas from the Greens. Take the example of the four day week, promoted recently by John McDonnell. Of course this idea featured prominently in the 2017 Green Party Manifesto. But hang on, Labour hasn’t yet swallowed the idea of a Guaranteed Basic Income, also a long-held policy favoured by the Greens. Yet hang on again…… McDonnell apparently is talking about introducing a ‘pilot scheme’ for this very same idea.

Labour has even picked up on Green Party themes of opposing prospects of a US trade deal since it will lead to us accepting US regulations allowing beef made with GM hormones, chlorinated chicken and regulations that allow maggots and hair in food products. Of course there are some Corbynite policies that haven’t been nicked from the Greens surely? Rail re-nationalisation, maybe? Well, not even that. The Greens have been promoting this for several years now! But then the Green Party still wants to scrap Trident, something that Labour doesn’t. Ironically, this was Corbyn’s preferred policy before he started copying the Greens big time.

Dave Toke

Dr David Toke is a reader in Energy Politics and Law at Aberdeen University. His latest book, Low Carbon Politics, is published by Routledge.