With our average energy bills due to rise by £693 annually – after a 54% increase to the price cap – Bath MP Wera Hobhouse has spoken in support of a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies and called on the Government to look at renewables as the long-term solution.
Citing a reliance on a volatile international gas market, she has questioned the Government’s record on rolling out renewable energy.
Commenting after a debate on the subject, Ms Hobhouse, the Lib Dem Climate Change spokesperson, said:
‘I support the motion for a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies. Household utility bills will rise by an estimated £50 a month in April, and we have heard many moving stories today about how struggling households will have to make very difficult and awful choices. Millions of people will be turning down their heating, or turning it off altogether, so that they can keep eating, and millions more will feel the pinch, including many of my families in Bath.
I will focus on how we got here, how our dependence on volatile gas supplies from abroad could be avoided in future and why more has not been done. Two things have shocked me. First, I am shocked by how dependent we still are on gas when we must dramatically change our fossil fuel consumption if we want to stand a fighting chance of reaching net zero in 10 years’ time. Secondly, I am shocked that consumers who have switched to renewable electricity companies will foot the extra bill for gas, although they do not use any gas at all. I made that point in another debate, as the Minister knows.
Ideally, all power should come from renewables: onshore and offshore wind, solar and marine. There are few countries as well situated as the UK for wind and marine. Not only should we be generating all our power renewably but we should be exporting it across Europe. This is a perfect opportunity to be a global leader.
The cost of wind power is coming down year on year, and it will soon be a mature market with steady costs. Once a wind farm is built, apart from small overhead and maintenance costs, the electricity cost is almost nothing. That is the beauty of all renewables, and it was the idea behind the contracts for difference introduced by the Liberal Democrats in government when my Right Hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Contracts for difference are best described as fixed-term contracts for the electricity produced over a 20-year period. Once they are out of contract, electricity from these installations should be extremely cheap, which is perfect for consumers.
A lot more should have been done over the last seven years, when the Tories have been in government on their own. The Government quadrupled the number of contracts for difference offered in the last auction round, but that is not enough. Why limit the number at all, as it slows the roll-out of renewables?
So far, the Tory Government have allowed renewables to grow, but only slowly to maintain the fossil fuel and renewable industries alongside each other. As businesses and residential customers shift from gas to electricity, limiting the growth of renewables by restricting the number of contracts for difference keeps the fossil fuel industry in the game.
That brings me back to the millions of consumers who are committed to climate action and have switched to a renewable electricity supplier. In April they will find they are paying more for their electricity, even though they are not buying any electricity generated from gas. This is a clear example of the market being regulated for the benefit of the gas companies. Renewable electricity prices are approximately the same now as they will be in six months’ time, so why should such customers have to pay higher bills?
The Government need to fix this unfairness as a matter of urgency. Although it would not fix the energy crisis for everybody, it would at least reward customers who are doing the right thing on climate action. It would incentivise more people to switch and, in turn, drive climate action, but a windfall tax on the profits of the oil and gas companies is needed immediately.’