Sunday, 15 September 2013

Conference votes for a real-world energy policy

The Guardian reported Nick Clegg as urging Liberal Democrats to be realistic now that we are a party of government. This was interpreted in some quarters as rolling over to the Tories in such areas as civil liberties, defence and social fairness. While I feel that more could have been done in the latter area, in the event LibDems in parliament have maintained their principles on all three. Nor are there signs that the party as a whole is going to back down on any of them.

There is movement, however, on the energy front. Representatives at the Federal Conference in Glasgow this morning accepted that there is a need to accept both shale gas and nuclear power in order to fill the gap between phasing out coal-fired stations and the ability of renewables to supply base-load electricity.

An option in Motion F10 (on Green Growth and Green Jobs) which would have ruled out new nuclear capacity altogether was voted down in favour of one which accepted "that in future, nuclear power stations could play a limited role in electricity supply, provided concerns about safety, disposal of radioactive waste and cost (including decommissioning) are adequately addressed and without allowing any public subsidy for new build". It helped that Ed Davey, the man with ministerial responsibility in the field, was on hand to reiterate his guarantee that there would be no subsidy on his watch. It has to be said, though, that some members were reluctant converts, persuaded by the loss of jobs if there were to be no new nuclear construction. The pressures on Hinckley in Somerset are the same as those in Ynys Môn. There was a clear, if not substantial, majority for Option B.

There was an even larger majority in favour of fracking for shale gas, though with safeguards. This I am much more doubtful about, and wonder how many of the representatives came from parts of the country overlying gas-bearing shale beds and knew about it. The UK is at least better prepared than the US, where the chemicals used for fracking are still proprietary secrets, in that fracking contractors must make their recipes public here. However, inspections must be real and stringent, not merely rubber-stamps as we saw in parts of the English NHS under Labour.

The whole motion is baggy and unfocused, something to which the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers & Scientists objected to. However there move to refer the motion back was defeated and at least we have an indication of direction, if not a plethora of concrete proposals.

There is a pdf of the conference agenda here. It includes the text of all the motions, but sadly it has not been updated with the amendments.

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