How Not to Run An Energy Policy : The Lessons from Three Decades

Wilson, Brian (2017) How Not to Run An Energy Policy : The Lessons from Three Decades. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

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I stand here as a layman in a room full of experts; as someone who, for a few years, tried to steer the United Kingdom’s energy policy in a safe and sustainable direction and now retains involvement as occasional participant and commentator. But none of that – or even the title of Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde - makes me an expert. The only defence I can plead is that, sometimes, you need non-experts making decisions because the one certainty about experts is that their expertise will not all point in the same direction. That is where politicians have come in; balancing the arguments – against cost, against benefits, against ideological objectives, against common sense. Not always successfully. If that process is to succeed, the most desirable ingredient is continuity. The same minister, the same advisers, the same intellectual challenges, the same objectives. On that basis, it just might be possible to steer a path that follows a consistent route, albeit with twists and turns along the way. Unfortunately, these conditions bear little relationship to the realities of how energy policy has evolved. In the absence of continuity, we have lived with a procession of compromises, delays and short-term fixes. At the end of the day, it has not been a disaster because the lights are still on and the wheels of industry – or what is left of it – continue to turn. But that is setting the bar rather low and also begs the question of what we are handing on to the next generation, a quarter of a century after the state-owned industries passed such a handsome legacy to those who succeeded them.