The UK Government’s so-called Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is a complete misnomer : for example, a very large proportion of its budget is expended on anti-energy – the decommissioning of end-of-life nuclear power plants and the safe disposal or reprocessing of the radioactive waste and radioactive spent nuclear fuel. This department needs to be broken up in my view, mainly because key policy and budgetary aims are conflictual, and poor choices in expenditure could be precipitated as the Treasury is insisting on further central budget cuts. Additionally, the new Conservative Government is showing signs of continuing with the plan to support the mining for shale gas and shale oil onshore in the UK, and this is neither an energy policy nor a Climate Change policy.
First of all, I propose a Department for Nuclear Decommissioning, or DNUDE. The main reason for this is that this function has little to do with the production of energy, and has more to accomplish as the safeguard of public health and safety, not to mention national security, in the years ahead. Cuts to this department should be kept to a bare minimum, as nuclear decommissioning is a vital task. Misspending and mismanagement in this area is legendary, so focusing on these activities separately to the other DECC functions could help channel the proper attention to expenditure, contracts and the right choice of engineering solutions. This department could also assist with the shelving of plans for new nuclear power plants, which are becoming increasingly unworkable, as it becomes patently obvious that the nuclear engineering industry is unfit to deliver.
Next, I propose a Department of Low Carbon Initiatives, or DLOCIN. Going on past form, very little is expected to be spent by the new Conservative Government on clean, green technology, energy conservation, and renewable energy. Paying for renewable energy is going to be shunted onto power consumer bills, and the Government expects energy and engineering companies to use capital expenditure to invest in new low carbon power plants and other low carbon installations. DECC has not been a Department for Energy, it’s been a Department for Markets in Energy : but with the budgetary cuts ahead, all of that will die. DLOCIN could be a preppy, chirpy, communications-focused department, with obviously little money to spread around and lots of website graphics in bold colours. One thing they could usefully do is promote energy efficiency, whilst not actually spending any money, something the previous Government Coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats showed via the Green Deal could be magnificently effective in not achieving much in the way of energy efficiency at all.
Then, I suggest the UK Government should have a Department of Fossil Fuels or DOFFF. It should be made obvious by this separation that new energy resources that come out of the ground, such as shale gas and shale oil, and new North Sea petroleum and Natural Gas are not a solution for Climate Change. Having shale gas exploitation pushed by the existing Department of Energy and Climate Change or DECC is deeply cognitively dissonant, and such conflicts should be removed. DOFFF should be planted in the UK Treasury, as there is a symbiotic relationship between fossil fuel production and central taxation. The North Sea is depleting, and onshore oil and gas could take decades to ramp up. As the UK Government gets increasingly desperate to stimulate fresh UK production of oil and gas, the Treasury will be offering juicier and fruitier sweeteners, in the form of tax breaks, loans and other financing instruments. Additionally, as it becomes clearer that the UK is becoming increasingly dependent on imports of oil and gas, DOFFF will need to be under the wing of the Ministry of War, sorry, I mean the Ministry of Defence, as the UK starts to deploy troops to maintain access to vital fossil fuel resources in any country that can supply them. An added bonus of cleaving DECC to produce DOFFF will be that the moribund coal industry can be hooked into it, preventing it from draining resources and patience from other departments.
Finally, I suggest the UK Government should merge its Climate Change functions into what is now known as Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Why ? Because with this Conservative Government, acting on Climate Change is going to be pared down to contingency and adaptational responses, such as dredging rivers and repairing flood defences.
The UK Government would end up without any Department for Energy – apart from the teetering antiquated fossil fuel section. It would also end up without a Department clearly committed to action on Climate Change. At least this would be more honest and truthful than keeping the E and CC in DECC.