Ever since taking office as energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne has tried to appear even-handed in the on-going debate between the nuclear and renewable energy sectors.
He has elegantly distanced himself from his previous opposition to nuclear, admitting that he would support new reactors if energy firms can demonstrate that they will be built without public subsidy. But at the same time he has attempted to put a reassuring arm around the shoulders of the renewable industry, insisting he wants the sector to "come of age" under this government.
As a result, those intent on building new nuclear reactors, those committed to erecting wind turbines, and those keen on installing solar panels have all let it be known that the new secretary of state is "someone they can work with".
The problem is that while the rhetoric indicates a balanced energy policy, what little action we have seen since the new government took office suggests the nuclear industry is beginning to establish itself as top dog.
It was the nuclear industry that requested and got meetings with DECC ministers within days of their taking office, just as it has been the nuclear industry that today received a clear signal from energy minister Charles Hendry that the government will remove the "unnecessary" barriers it faces. In fact, Hendry's speech boiled down to a remarkably unequivocal message: "don't worry, we'll look after you".
You also get the impression that behind the scenes the nuclear industry has been granted at least some access to the policy detail that it needs to move forward with plans for new reactors. How else could EDF and others state with such confidence that they will be able to build unsubsidised reactors without a relatively clear understanding of the legislative and economic framework the reactors will be built in?
In contrast, the renewables sector is still awaiting clarity on numerous issues. Huhne may have stressed his commitment to the industry and there is universal agreement that as a Lib Dem his support for the sector runs deep. But where is the clarification on how the government plans to extend the feed in tariff to all renewable projects? Where is the detail on how it will make good on its commitment to accelerate the development of marine and anaerobic digestion technologies? Where is the evidence that the promised Green Investment Bank will prove effective? Where is the information on what is going to happen to the renewable heat sector? Where is the promise to address the UK's flawed, anti-wind farm planning regime? Where is the timeline for answering all these questions?
While the nuclear energy industry awaits details on the government's national planning statement and how it will impose a floor price on carbon, the renewables sector awaits answers to countless questions, many of which are undoubtedly chipping away at investor confidence. There have been rumours that Siemens and others have been given the nod from Whitehall confirming plans for a £60m investment programme to upgrade ports to support the offshore wind industry will go ahead. There is also confidence across the sector that plans to deliver the best part of 40GW of offshore wind energy capacity over the next 10 years will continue uninterrupted. But few other reassurances have been forthcoming.
Take anaerobic digestion as just one example. The government yesterday announced a wide-ranging waste policy review that will look at how best to cut waste levels and support anaerobic digestion. But it will take best part of a year to complete and the government will then have to make a decision to implement its recommendations or not. Contrast that with Hendry's pledge to move swiftly to remove barriers to new reactors and provide unerring support to unsubsidised nuclear plants.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this - the UK is likely to need a new fleet of nuclear reactors if it is to develop a diverse, secure and low carbon energy mix. Moreover, if you get a decent price imposed on carbon emissions then there should be enough capital to go round to support the development of both nuclear reactors and renewables projects, particularly given that the recent travails faced by new reactors on the continent suggest wind power and other forms of renewables can compete with nuclear on cost. But the renewables sector could still be forgiven for thinking that the reassurances the coalition has offered the nuclear industry suggest new reactors have already been penciled in at the top of its list of energy priorities.
DECC insists more detail on the government's promised energy and green economy bill will be made available as soon as the unpleasant business of the emergency budget is dealt with. But it appears that enough of that detail has been settled for the nuclear industry to be provided with explicit reassurance that the government "clearly sees a role for new nuclear", and for the industry to let it be known in return that it can build new reactors without subsidy.
Meanwhile, large swathes of the renewables sector continue to wait for details on precisely how the government will deliver the promised boost to the industry. If the coalition government's claim that renewable energy is a top priority is to be taken seriously then it needs to clearly spell out how it plans to support the sector - and fast.
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