What were we to make of it? A senior Minister going apparently off message whilst quoting incomprehensible Austrian philosophers and a Secretary of State allegedly gagging his Departmental Ministerial colleague. Welcome to energy policy in the autumn of 2012.
The new Energy Minister has set a herd of cats among the pigeons. Yesterday Mr Hayes is reported to have said that the UK was “peppered” with wind farms, he added “If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target”. Mr Hayes then said the words that ignited a debate that is still raging with the utterance that “I’m saying enough is enough.”
Following Mr Hayes' comments, Mr Cameron was asked by Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday whether the Coalition would still be the "greenest government ever". The PM held back from repeating his previous pledge, instead telling him "this is indeed a very green government and it's sticking to its promises." Somewhat enigmatically he added that he was anticipating a renewed debate about green energy. "There's been no change towards renewable energy....We've got a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects that are coming through, we're committed to those. But, frankly, all parties are going to have to have a debate in this House and outside this House about what happens once those targets are met" he told MPs.
Meanwhile the Government were told this morning that it risks losing investment in green technology if it does not make its policy on renewable energy clear. This came from none other than Mr Hayes’ respected predecessor former Energy Minister Charles Hendry at DECC Questions.
Things got even more interesting as there were reports that DECC Secretary Ed Davey vetoed key lines from a speech that Mr Hayes was due to give to the Renewable UK Conference in Glasgow. It has been alleged by Lib Dem sources that the speech was going to “attack” wind power.
However harmony, in public at least, may have broken out today with Mr Hayes saying there was no rift between him and Mr Davey over wind farms. Mr Davey at DECC questions this morning said “He [Mr Hayes] and I may occasionally disagree on issues of substance, and I certainly didn’t agree with his remarks the other day, but I have to say I admire his style.” There was a sting in the tail, however. Mr Davey reiterated at the PRASEG Conference yesterday afternoon that he was now responsible for renewables policy. He insisted there had been "no change on government policy on renewables".
So what is this all about? As discussed previously in the Bulletin Mr Hayes appointment is a shift to the right. He is also a man of strong views, one of them concerns wind farms. This could not have been lost on the PM when he replaced Charles Hendry with him only a few weeks ago. Mr Hayes view could be best gleaned from a less reported article by him in the Guardian yesterday. He said that “our future energy strategy cannot depend on renewables alone”. He went on to quote Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. He said he agreed with him that "ethics and aesthetics are one". The philosopher Energy Minister said “the salience of aesthetics to discussions about renewables has often been neglected. I agree with philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that ‘ethics and aesthetics are one’”. For Mr Hayes “it is part the product of philosophical liberalism that we place undue emphasis on utility and not enough on beauty”.
Perhaps in a portent of what is to come he said he was “not be starry-eyed about the influence of commercial interests. It is my responsibility to get a fair deal for consumers in the national interest. I will challenge assumptions and assertions and fight for bill payers. This applies not just to renewable energy, but across the entire portfolio”.
The question on everyone’s lips in the corridors of Westminster is who exactly is the new Energy Minister’s master or indeed does he have one at all?
Mr Hayes concluded his Guardian article by saying “we must develop a fresh energy strategy built on a new paradigm. I am determined to deliver a strategy in the best interests of all.” Interesting that he said “I” and not “we”.