Sceptical green campaigners left bemused by Chancellor shale pledge

It came as a surprise to many environmental lobbyists that the Chancellor George Osborne put faith in the renewables energy sector in his speech at the Tory conference in Birmingham today, but his endorsement of shale gas in the UK was perhaps a bigger shock.

Coupling renewables and shale gas together, perhaps in an edgy response to letters from organisations calling for clear legislation on the 2030 decarbonisation target this morning, the Chancellor tried to placate Greens but has left them more sceptical than ever. 

Osborne said: “An enterprise strategy means investing in renewable energy, and opening up the newly discovered shale gas reserves beneath our land.

“We are today consulting on a generous new tax regime for shale so that Britain is not left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic.”

The CBI saw the positive in the Chancellor’s proposal, saying:

“It makes sense to maximise the amount of energy we can produce at home at reasonable cost. Incentivising the exploration of shale gas sits alongside investment in renewables. I don’t want all my eggs in one energy basket.”

However Greenpeace were not so quick to praise the Chancellor.

Head of Greenpeace’s Energy and Climate Campaign Jim Footner said:

“Osborne needs to stop giving hand-outs to his mates in the gas industry and instead back his Lib Dem coalition partners and the CBI by supporting investment in renewable technologies that will help stabilise bills, reduce our reliance on energy imports and boost the economy.”

Think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) Reg Platt, an expert in Energy policy and climate change policy was also indignant at Osborne’s comments.

In an exclusive interview with edie, Platt said he was sceptical on the speech because they “know where the Chancellor stands on gas and renewables more broadly.”

“It was another example of positive rhetoric from George Osborne for the gas industry and his second dash for gas he seems so intent on.

“On the policy side he’s increasingly against the green agenda and decarbonisation,” he said.

Platt was unsure about exactly what the Chancellor meant by a tax break for shale gas: “There isn’t actually tax revenue coming in from shale gas so we don’t actually know what he means yet.”

He had no qualms about the deployment of shale gas as a temporary measure but remained suspicious of the chancellor’s intentions saying:

“I’m totally happy with the deployment of shale gas in the UK along as if it’s within the context of the decarbonisation target of 2030. It makes sense if we have shale in the UK to offset imports.

“But why are tax regimes in place if we just keep giving relief to fossil fuel companies to get around them?”

Platt believes that the Chancellor stands in the way of meeting the 2030 target, noting that Osborne looked “incredibly isolated” in his opposition to the 2030 decarbonisation target.

He also pointed out that Osborne wanted to use unabated gas post 2030 to “quite a significant degree” claiming it was effectively impossible to meet the target with that strategy.

“You’ve got labour supporting [the target], Lib Dems supporting it, the committee for climate change supporting it, green groups are supporting it, business is supporting it – there are people across the board supporting it,” he said.

Platt was quick to point out that Osborne gave only a passing mention to the green sector in his speech.

“It was one sentence it wasn’t an announcement.

“That’s fine but you just tried to slash the onshore wind subsidy without evidence and you’re also trying to undermine the 2030 decarbonisation target. He can drop a word in a speech but what really matters is the delivery of the policy,” he said.

Calling into question the Government’s focus, Platt argued that there were huge challenges in developing shale gas in the UK and Europe and that there was little point concentrating on it when it would not have a significant impact on energy supplies up until the mid-2020’s.

Conor McGlone

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