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Clouds and Clouds – Fawley Power Station | Photo: Hythe Eye – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article

Clouds and Clouds – Fawley Power Station | Photo: Hythe Eye – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article

Don’t blame green policies for market failure, argues Elaine Graham-Leigh

The energy price crisis has shown, in case there was any doubt, that Insulate Britain make a good point that improving insulation where possible is important. The juxtaposition of the energy cap rise with the announcement of Shell’s highest profits in eight years reminds us of something else: that however much they greenwash, in the fight for clean energy, the fossil-fuel companies are on one side, and it isn’t ours.

For many Tories, the lesson of the current energy price crisis is that there is a direct contradiction between promoting renewable energy and keeping energy affordable. This isn’t just the lunatic fringe in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who have been calling for more North Sea gas production, but also the Treasury, which is apparently considering removing the green levies from fuel bills.

This is not to say that the green levies aren’t a horribly regressive way of funding insulation projects, nor that the government’s insulation policies aren’t woeful. They are. The willingness to consider dropping the green levies, however, shows what even the greenest Tories really think about climate policies. At best, they’re icing on the cake; a nice-to-have in prosperous times, but the first thing to ditch in a pinch.

Soaring fossil-fuel prices make an obvious case for moving to renewables, but the current energy price crisis also demonstrates the central importance of nationalisation if we’re going to be able to make that transition. As Dominic Alexander recently pointed out, the underlying cause of high gas prices isn’t as simple as a lack of supply. It seems probable that it lies at base in the investment decisions of major fossil-fuel companies. What we’re seeing is an illustration of the fact that capitalism is very bad at managed transition.

Energy generation from gas is supposed to be transitional, a stage that countries will go through on the journey from coal to renewables. The question though is whether a market system can manage transitional infrastructure in such a way that it will be there in the short term, but can still be shut down in the medium to long term. The current crisis rather suggests that it can’t, and all of us are paying the price.

The fact that everyone’s bills are soaring, whether you’re on a 100% renewable tariff or not, gives the lie to the idea that we can shift to renewable energy generation one consumer at a time. When even renewables suppliers have to buy in the same wholesale market as everyone else, it drives home the point that we are all on the same grid. We won’t have green energy until the whole energy generation infrastructure is green. It’s an infrastructure change, not a personal one.

In the face of a market failure of this severity, the sensible course is to take electricity and gas back into public ownership. That’s the only way we’re going to get the managed, socially just transition to renewable energy that we desperately need. Tories trying to make the climate crisis the next weapon in a culture war want us to think that they’re on the side of working people, while greens just want us to suffer. In reality, of course, it’s the other way around. The Tories don’t want energy companies to suffer. They really don’t care about the rest of us.

Elaine Graham-Leigh

Elaine Graham-Leigh

Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade. She speaks and writes widely on issues of climate change and social justice, and is a member of Counterfire. She is the author of A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change and Marx and the Climate CrisisHer sci-fi novel, The Caduca, is out now from The Conrad Press. 

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