How will the general election affect energy in the UK?

The upcoming general election promises to be one of the most unpredictable of recent decades.

In the past, it was relatively easy to predict a general election’s outcome, boiling down to a straightforward contest between Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat rivals. This year, the Green Party on the left and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on the right have become credible challenges to this political orthodoxy, and unsatisfied voters are reconsidering their old allegiances in light of widespread discontent with the political system.

As the 7th of May 2015 approaches, it’s increasingly evident that energy policies are being pushed further down the agenda as each party tackles the more emotive topics of the National Health Service, living standards and the UK’s future in the EU to sway votes.

Energy prices are one of the few energy issues that have entered the debate.

Initially thrown into the spotlight in 2013 when Ed Miliband promised to freeze bills until 2017 if Labour is elected, the party also pledged to replace Ofgem with a tough, new industry watchdog.

David Cameron made it clear that the Conservative government would be unwilling to take similar steps, deeming the campaign to be anti-business and driven by ideology.

There are flaws in Labour’s price-freeze as, although costs have stabilised in recent months, energy prices have soared since 2013, meaning that we’d be locked into higher bills than we were facing at the time Miliband first made the announcement.

A price-freeze could also equate to uncertainty for renewable energy development if profit losses in the utilities industry results in less investment into the sector.

The recent discovery of up to 100 billion1 barrels of oil near Gatwick could see the UK become the next key location for high levels of oil production.

Current legislations make it difficult to fast-track oil extraction but the ensuing government may be inclined to change this in order to utilise the latest resource discovered in their own country, situated close by to the M25 in Sussex.

However, Friends of the Earth campaigner Brenda Pollack pointed out: “The prospect of dirty oil extraction in Southern England will alarm local communities and put fracking firmly on the election agenda.

“Any firm proposing to drill for oil in the region knows it will face huge opposition – as happened at Balcombe, Fernhurst and Wisborough Green.”

For the protection of the planet, the next government face the challenge of ending our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels. Instead, investment in renewable power and energy efficient solutions are needed.

Yet, besides the Green Party, few are talking about the UK’s future energy mix.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems signed a cross-party agreement in February, committing to support a global climate deal, set national carbon budgets and accelerate the UK’s transition to a competitive, energy-efficient economy, ending the use of unabated coal for power generation. This leaves UKIP as the only party in support of unabated fuel.

However, in spite of the agreement, a lack of key details remains such as a working timeline.

If the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future energy mix is to be alleviated, the UK’s next government will need to take a much clearer stance on if, how and when the UK can call itself an energy-efficient economy.

1 The Independent, 2015. Gatwick oil discovery: Claims up to 100 billion barrels of oil met with substantial scepticism. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/gatwick-oil-discovery-claims-up-to-100-billion-barrels-of-oil-met-with-substantial-scepticism-10166351.html. [Accessed 14th April 2015].

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