LEADING WITH HIS MOUTH, THE MINISTER IS JUST NOT THE MAN FOR THE JOB
The new Energy Minister signalled his intent with a sweeping attack on windfarm opponents. So he's no sooner in office, writes Neil Young, than he's missed the point and leading with his mouth
It should come as no surprise that the Energy Minister is parading his ignorance almost as soon as the nameplate has been screwed on to his office door.
New Labour loyalists get through this role faster than shopping malls can turf out teenagers with hoodies. Mr Wicks' gung-ho approach to his brief yesterday in which he reaffirmed the Government's commitment to turning the countryside into a windfarm theme park - and branded objectors as "Nimbys" - will doubtless enamour him to his Cabinet seniors.
And maybe that is the point. By the time he gets even close to understanding the enormity of the issues he is tasked to oversee, he will have been reshuffled sideways or upwards.
That's assuming, of course, he bothers at any point to shed the cloth ears that appeared made-to-measure for him yesterday. If he does, he may hear or see past the special interest groups and the supposedly-informed environmental voices who even now must be whispering to him with their wise words and advice.
On yesterday's showing, that could not be more unlikely - instead he will follow the now near-ritualistic pattern of his predecessors.
A year-and-a-half ago, it was Stephen Timms who was exhorting windfarm companies to "go out and build". He didn't last long. Nor did his successor, Mike O'Brien - now the Solicitor General - who was less than a year in his role.
That did not stop Mr O'Brien taking a similarly myopic approach to the issues surrounding renewables, a threatened energy gap and climate change.
When the WMN pointed out to him that industrial carbon limits had been raised by his Government - even as Tony Blair evangelised about global warming - he dismissively remarked that industry could not be strait-jacketed at a time of economic growth.
This from the minister guiding the national assault on greenhouse gases!
When we revealed how the Renewables Advisory Board was dominated by people who worked for windfarm companies, he described the article as "ridiculous".
It would be comical were the matters in question not so urgent and important to the future well-being of every person in Britain. How we source our energy and how we curb greenhouse gas emissions touches on everything from rising temperatures, flooding, heating bills to clogged-up roads.
We should be able to expect a reasoned and coherent strategy for dealing with these complex problems - and perhaps some political nerve for a change.
Judging by Mr Wicks' opening salvo as Energy Minister, he has been appointed because he is not the man for that job.
No sooner is he installed in his office than he is pronouncing that it's windfarms or the planet gets it.
Mr Wicks would do well to kick his advisers into the corridor and examine some of the uncomfortable facts. He might investigate the effects of low frequency noise on people living close to wind turbines.
He might take an illuminating look at the financial racket of hefty public subsidies that underpins so much of the dash for wind.
He might consider how that money could better be used to invest in a massive national conservation programme. Or even how other technologies from tidal, wave, biomass, waste from energy, "clean coal", could rapidly be brought on stream.
He might examine the well-documented experiences of Europe's windfarm leaders - Denmark and Germany - as a warning of how their green dream of turbine-power has backfired.
He might notice then that the environmental arguments for multiplying onshore windfarms do not stack up and - worse - may even be counter-productive.
Yes, wind turbines are the most readily-available renewable technology at present, and yes they may help the Government to achieve its near-meaningless Kyoto target of ten per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.
But that may be by destabilising and diminishing other, more effective energy sources. And it will only have been achieved by decimating large swathes of the natural environment that are the lifeblood of the British countryside.
Further - and here the irony becomes most acute - it may have happened against a backdrop of unchecked climate change.
Whatever Britain does is dwarfed by what happens in the USA and China, and until such time as they join the global environmental mission, that will ever be the case.
That's no reason to do nothing - if anything, it adds to the need for the UK and other countries to drive the momentum.
But here is where this policy of overcoming public opinion through the rigged ritual of the planning process, and planting monolithic turbines where they are least wanted, makes the least sense.
As strange as it may seem to many people, more renewables do not necessarily add up to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
It mostly means that we are producing more "clean" electricity as a proportion of escalating demand.
That's because electricity - no matter its source - only accounts for around a third of our national greenhouse gas emissions.
Most of the rest comes from transport and communications - at a time when Mr Wicks' Government is chucking money at road-building and airport expansion.
If the minister was serious about climate change, this should have been the first target of his attack.
But that would mean less time and attention for lambasting people in the countryside as "Nimbys", or posturing around the most visible and publicly recognised form of renewable energy - windfarms.
What next - will he parrot the mantra that "if you don't back wind, you'll get nuclear power"?
Will he recycle the cliche that it's somehow a choice of evils - even though there are powerful arguments why both should be sidelined?
Will he - as have many environmentalists with the ear of Government - level the accusation of a conspiracy of vested interest by those opposed to the proliferation of turbines?
That may even be the case in some instances.
But let's while we're at it just puncture the myth that the rush for wind is motivated by some great egalitarian or environmental vision.
It is also about big business and having the ear of politicians. Is he aware that venture capitalist Nigel Doughty, who heads a company which owns the world's biggest manufacturer of wind turbines, L M Glasfiber, is a major Labour Party donor, with access to Tony Blair?
This news should make sobering reading for those who drool on about wind turbines being all things green and beautiful. Mr Doughty - who is also chairman of Nottingham Forest - gave new Labour £250,000 last year after a dinner with Mr Blair. This year, L M Glasfiber, based in Denmark, declared of its business prospects in Britain: "We anticipate substantial growth in this market in 2005, based on well-known onshore and offshore projects."
In the light of all this, will Mr Wicks now take himself off for a bit of homework about the facts behind onshore wind power?
Or will he continue as he has started - leading with his mouth, lashing out at opponents, and ramping up a failed policy, before he is, like those before him, shuffled up the ministerial corridor?