Mr Miliband is right about one thing. Energy bills are too high.
He should know why. It was his Climate Change legislation which underwrote EU energy policies to push the price of energy up in the UK. The EU/UK policies of pricing and taxing carbon dioxide emissions, requiring substantial generation from very expensive renewables, and making it difficult to exploit local carbon based energy resources have helped force up domestic energy costs.
One of the architects of dear energy did not go to Brighton to recant. He did not apologise for creating dear energy. He did not say we should make it a priority to have affordable energy to heat our homes, and affordable energy to price industry back into business. He did not hail a shale gas revolution, so we could drive our energy prices well down as the USA is curently doing so successfully. Instead, he decided to blame someone else, and attack the energy companies forced to carry out his policy will.
It is all too easy to whip up popular hostility to large companies who report large profits. It may look inviting to suggest those profits should be given back to the customers, to hide the impact EU government policies are having on bills. It does, however, reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of profits.
Companies providing large scale facilities for electricity generation or for collecting and distributing gas need to generate profits so they have money to pay for the maintensance, renewal and expansion of their facilities. They also need to have some money to pay interest and dividends on the investment monies others have put into their businesses. Many of the providers of capital are the same people as the customers, placing their pension and insurance savings in to these companies.
Announcing a long freeze in prices could do considerable damage to supply and future investment. If raw material energy prices rise – the gas/coal/oil needed to drive electrical plant for example – the companies could be badly squeezed and lose large sums, undermining their financial stability. The threat of frozen prices will put off anyone from making a new investment in energy provision in the UK, at a time when we badly need more capacity. The prime duty of government is to set an energy policy which can keep the lights on. The second duty is to help create a competitive market which can turn to the lowest cost solutions to keep energy affordable. Labour’s new policy fails on both these counts.
It is difficult enough as it is with EU policy controls and Lib Dem renewable enthusiasts in the government. The UK needs to change energy policy by building a new generation of gas power stations, whilst bringing the plentiful gas supplies beneath our feet to the surface. That may require both a majority Conservative government and a renegotiaiton of our relationship with the EU to bring about. Mr Miliband in office made sure we faced high and rising bills for the future.