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Low on energy
Labour party, Issue 1617

Old Sparky writes… AS ATTENTION turns to how a Labour government might keep the lights on while achieving net zero, Keir Starmer's spectacular retreat from the promise to spend £28bn every year on "green prosperity" has been very public. But somehow his party still briefs that its green energy commitment – "cheaper, zero carbon electricity by 2030" – remains unchanged.

kier-turn.jpg
U-TURNERS: Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have changed their minds about yet another Labour policy
This was described as "a moonshot" and "probably infeasible" even by well-disposed commentators when announced in 2022 (Eye 1583), but his eviscerated green budget and other recent developments make it even less plausible.

Money to burn
First, the present government brought forward plans to allocate more than £30bn to its own favoured "green investments" – carbon capture and storage (CCS), new nukes, more tree-burning electricity, hydrogen energy – and seems keen to commit much of this before the election.

Elbow room for dismayed Labour energy supremo Ed Miliband within a fiscally challenged "green prosperity" budget will be much tighter by the time he can bid for funds – which aren't just intended for energy projects and are already widely spoken for by shadow cabinet colleagues. It's now been announced he won't even get all of his much-needed home insulation scheme.

Nuclear option
Then French firm EDF confirmed that the new nuke at Hinkley Point won't be ready any time this decade (Eye 1615), with Sizewell C an even more distant prospect. "Small modular reactors" are nowhere in sight, so the nuclear fleet will disappoint Labour's assumptions for 2030, leaving a big gap in reliable electricity generation.

Intermittent wind power cannot fully make up for this, and Labour now pins hope on further extending the lives of already cracked existing nukes, with imports for back-up. Neither can be solidly relied upon for 2030 and beyond.

Old nukes can give up the ghost at short notice. Periods of low wind generation across the whole of northern Europe happen for around 13 percent of the year; and hydro-powered Norway, the biggest electricity exporter, has had enough of being relied on as an unlimited back-up. All this means greater demands on the green budget, plus relying on gas far beyond 2030.

Price pinch
Finally, hope that Miliband's electricity will be cheaper has been dashed. No new source of green electricity, from wind to tidal power, is on offer at or below today's wholesale price: many demand more than twice as much, some up to five times.

To the extent his green budget is already spoken for, these costs can't be levied via general taxation given the self-imposed constraints on that front, and he'll be left with the old trick of dumping them on electricity bills.

To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1617 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 28th February 2024
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More top stories in the latest issue:

FUDGE-ITSU!
Forthcoming reform should eventually make it easier to exclude poorly performing private contractors from public contracts – but not for a while yet.

DIG FOR DOM
Dominic Raab, who has said in the Commons that the UK needs "a massive increase in the supply of critical minerals", has a lucrative new job...

TURNING BLUE
Some of the Labour party's new "commercial partners" have recent links to the Tories, further muddying the shrinking difference between the two parties.

COINBASE MOTIVES
US cryptocurrency platform Coinbase has put George Osborne on its advisory board, weeks after the firm schmoozed with Labour's Rachel Reeves in Davos.

HOUSING NEWS
Within 24 hours of the government publishing its consultation on social housing allocations, its own statistics were revealing some glaring contradictions.

CALLED TO ORDURE
MPs trying to probe civil service recruitment, pay and performance policies ran into a blizzard of jargon from Whitehall personnel supremos last week.

HAMAS MEDIA
Lord Cameron is pausing funding for a UN agency after accusations that Hamas terrorists infiltrated it – but the move may be based on ambiguous press reports.

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