Energy sources

Should Labour pledge to abolish taxes on energy bills?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 21st, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Should Labour pledge to abolish taxes on energy bills?

This was originally posted on LabourList. The original (and interesting comment thread) is here.

Government charges on energy bills help fund the UK’s switch to renewable energy, and also subsidise heating and insulation for the poorest and elderly. But with energy prices soaring and the Tories’ attacks on the taxes increasing, there’s a good case for Labour to consider replacing the taxes with something that achieves the same results but takes the burden away from people who’re struggling to pay their bills.

The charges are currently made up of two things: green levies that support the switch to a low carbon energy supply: 4% of an average bill (in fact, there’s agood case that this will also produce lower energy bills in the long term). A slightly larger amount (5% of an average bill) is for helping poorer people with heating and insulation.

The populist case against taxes on energy bills isn’t as obvious as it may seem. Most people, correctly, don’t think their energy bill is so high because of the cost of renewables: just 7% say taxes for turbines are the main factor driving up prices. So it may seem this isn’t a problem in most people’s eyes, just something dreamed up by the Telegraph and Mail, egged on by the Big Six energy suppliers.

But there’s still a case for changing things. Cutting household bills is one of the most popular things politicians could do: more than cutting taxes or increasing wages. And there’s enough truth that taxes are part of what’s driving high and rising energy bills, at least in the short-term, for there to be the impression that the burden of paying for climate change is falling on people who can’t afford it.

It’s a particular problem for Labour. The combination of the freeze on energy bills and a commitment to a 2030 decarbonisation target  will squeeze energy companies’ finances. Most people won’t be bothered by smaller corporate profits, but it will give the Tories the chance to paint Labour as failing to understand business and leaving a black(out) hole in their energy plans.

There’s also a political risk for Labour, of the Tories abolishing the taxes first. Already there arerumours that the Tories will address energy taxes in the Autumn Statement on 4 December. It’s not hard to imagine them scrapping a couple of the taxes and so neutralising Labour’s position as the party that offers the lowest energy bills. The SNP have just suggested something similar.

And there’s a social justice argument for changing the taxes. While the social charges distribute support to poorer people, this has to work against the regressive effect of increasing bills. There could be more progressive ways to pay for the UK’s shift to a less polluting and cheaper energy supply, and to helping poorer people get through the winter.

One problem with moving around any taxes is that the anger of the losers generally outweighs the gratitude of the winners. This could be partly mitigated if the losers are seen to be able to afford it, but even a progressive redistribution of energy taxes can’t be expected to get only a positive response.

There’s still another piece missing though. Even if the politics and economics are right, Labour and others still need to spend more time explaining why green taxes are necessary at all. The UK public overwhelmingly believes climate change is real and a threat, but there’s little understanding about what climate change will mean for the UK and why we should care. If Labour are to continue supporting decarbonisation, as they should, they need to get better at explaining why it matters.

Government charges on energy bills – whether green or redistributing – serve an important purpose. But with the Tories moving against them and Labour trying to fight the election as the party who’ll reduce the cost of living, the taxes are likely to come under increasing pressure. The benefits they bring may be best protected by Labour adapting the charges to reduce their burden on the poorest, while also putting more work into explaining why the UK should want a lower carbon and renewable energy supply.

Fracking has hardly any public support – but opponents have a tough choice

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 20th, 2013 by Leo – 6 Comments

Carbon Brief’s new poll shows how little support there is for shale gas fracking in the UK. But while the poll suggests supporters of shale have problems to overcome, it also shows that anti-frackers have a real challenge ahead.

Shale gas wells have the lowest support out of any domestic source of energy. Fewer than one in five would support the building of a shale well within 10 miles of their home: that compares with more than half who support wind turbines.


But opposition to shale isn’t yet solid. There are still 40% who aren’t sure either way about local fracking, and fewer opponents than there are for both coal and nuclear. The argument can still swing either way.

And dig into the reasons for people’s opinions about shale, and it’s clear that both sides have problems.

Support for fracking is on shaky ground

The reasons why people support shale are strongly angled towards its being a crucial source of energy for the country.

This is a winning argument if the debate happens on a national level. Everyone knows we need some kind of energy source, so if people agree that shale can provide secure, low-cost domestic energy for the country, it’s hard to find a national-level argument that beats it*.

But this only works if fracking will happen in, say, desolate and sparsely populated places. It’s less effective if fracking happens where people live and you’re facing emotional** arguments.

The reasons for opposition to shale indeed show the challenge for its supporters.

Earthquakes and contaminated drinking water not only sound horrible for people living near wells – they’re also outrageous enough to mobilise outrage across the country. If the country believes that fracking causes so much local damage (regardless of whether it does), the benefits of energy security aren’t enough to win the argument.

Anti-frackers have to make a tough decision

But this is also a major problem for anti-frackers – who have a big decision to make.

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Wind has three times the local support of shale gas fracking

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 19th, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Wind has three times the local support of shale gas fracking

Carbon Brief’s new climate change and energy poll is just out and has loads of interesting results again. The most striking is that three times as many people would support new wind turbines within 10 miles of their home than would support a shale gas well.

Local fracking has the lowest support of any energy source out of all those tested. This is despite the media opposition to wind farms and the political backing for shale gas fracking.

Support for local wind turbines outweighs opposition by a factor of at least 1.8 in every UK region. Even among Tory voters, support (45%) is greater than opposition (31%).

For shale, no region can muster more than 21% support*. Little more than one in four (27%) of Tory voters would support a shale well within 10 miles of their home.

Part of the low support for fracking is a lack of knowledge about it – so many people are still undecided, rather than opposed. But even with lower knowledge, more people would oppose local shale gas wells than would oppose wind turbines, gas power stations or even coal mines.

A longer piece on campaigns and communications about fracking will be up here shortly.


* Ironically, the greatest support is in the North East – but still only 21%, against 33% opposition.

How worried are we really about energy security?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 29th, 2011 by leo – Comments Off on How worried are we really about energy security?

Last month we saw data on whether climate change or energy security is seen as more pressing.

The results were interesting. They suggested that people were more willing to reduce their energy consumption to help the environment than to protect the UK’s energy security; yet it also seemed that people wanted the government to prioritise protecting the energy supply over providing more environmentally friendly electricity.

It’s since been pointed out to me that the wording of the ‘personal responsibility’ question may have had a misleading influence. The option for energy security was phrased as ‘To conserve energy now to make sure the UK has enough in future’.

As was suggested to me, an interviewee might take issue with the implication that there are transferable units of electricity that can be used immediately or saved for later. Of course not using a unit of electricity today doesn’t mean that the unit will continue to be available tomorrow.

So perhaps my conclusion, that individuals see themselves as having a greater role in tackling climate change than they do in tackling energy security, was overstated.

And in fact another poll suggests exactly that.

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What difference has Fukushima made to attitudes to nuclear power?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 20th, 2011 by leo – Comments Off on What difference has Fukushima made to attitudes to nuclear power?

One of the idiosyncrasies of the nuclear industry is that they love polling. As a result we have a pretty good idea of what the world thinks of nuclear power, and how it’s changed over the years.

Charmingly, they’ve kept at the public polling after Fukushima, and so we can see how opinion’s changed after that, too. This is really useful because with an event this prominent, the media tend to assume that the public have been paying attention, and that public opinion must have undergone a dramatic shift.

Sometimes this is fair. The MPs’ expenses scandal did capture public attention and brought attitudes towards politicians even lower than they had been before.  But other high-profile media stories, like the UEA email release, came and went without having all that much impact on public opinion.

In the UK and US at least, Fukushima is looking like the latter kind of story, where a lot of media attention doesn’t lead to much of a change of attitudes.

It’s certainly had a huge amount of coverage. Compare on Google Trends for the UK the words “nuclear” and “news of the world”, the other major story of the last few months (before the riots, which dwarf the others):

So “nuclear” seems to have got more news coverage than “news of the world”, but been used slightly less in searches. We get something similar (with fewer hits) if we use “Fukushima” or “hacking”.

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Is keeping the lights on more important than stopping climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on July 24th, 2011 by leo – 1 Comment

How far people are willing to take personal action to prevent climate change is one of the big policy questions. When considering a major global issue like climate change, many people will consider that they cannot have an impact, and that they should leave it to the government, if indeed they think it’s worth tackling at all.

A new poll by ComRes tackles this question. Having been commissioned by Centrica, its focus is on domestic energy usage, and it suggests a tension between what people are doing now and what they might be willing to do in the future.

According to the poll, three quarters of UK adults have recently tried to reduce the amount of gas and electricity they use. The reasons given for these reductions are interesting:


That price should be top isn’t surprising, but I’m struck that nearly twice as many say they reduced their energy use to help the environment as say they did so to protect the UK’s energy supply.

This surprised me a little because polling I’ve seen in the past has shown that, as reasons for energy conservation, energy security is generally more compelling than climate change.

And we do in fact see something similar in a later question in this poll.

When we move away from what people are doing, and onto what they want the government to do, we get a different picture:

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Nuclear power after the earthquake

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on March 24th, 2011 by leo – Comments Off on Nuclear power after the earthquake

As expected, we’ve started seeing a flurry of polls on attitudes to nuclear power, post-earthquake. For now I’m going to focus on the UK polls, though there look to be a lot of non-UK polls too, and I’ll try to cover those soon.

Two have come out in the last few days: a YouGov/Sunday Times poll, which included a few questions on nuclear among other issues; and a poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth, and conducted by GfK NOP.  On the latter, just because it’s commissioned by a group who’re campaigning on the issue, doesn’t mean there’s anything dodgy about it. They’ve been good enough to release the data, and there doesn’t strike me as anything leading or suspicious about it, particularly the first question (which is the only one I’m using here).

Two things stand out from the polls:

1. Support for nuclear energy has fallen, but not dramatically

No surprises that support for nuclear energy has fallen.  I was a little surprised, though, by the relatively small size of the drop in support for building nuclear plants to replace those that are being phased out.

Before the earthquake, Mori in November last year found 47% support / 19% opposition.  Now, we see 35% support / 28% opposition in the GfK NOP poll (the YouGov poll had no equivalent question).

Putting this in context of the last few years, it only takes support for nuclear energy down to the level it was at in late ‘07. And while it’s fallen significantly since late last year, there’s still a majority in favour of replacement.


2. Men and women have very different attitudes

It’s not often that you see an issue so divided on gender lines as these polls show attitudes to nuclear power to be.

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Nuclear power before the earthquake: international polls

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on March 13th, 2011 by leo – 2 Comments

Caring about international public views on nuclear power shouldn’t be at the top of many people’s to-do list right now. For one, donating to the Red Cross should be a lot of places higher (and that’s also, sort of, what I’m going to write about).

But pretty soon now, once the stories from Japan of individual tragedy and wonderful survival have been played out, much of the media will turn to the question of whether nuclear power is safe. And a part of that reporting will be, whether people think that nuclear power is safe.

We can safely assume that public enthusiasm for nuclear energy, around the world, is right now taking a battering (as I write, there hasn’t been a nuclear disaster). We can also expect that a lot will be written about public attitudes to nuclear power. What I want to do here is collect some of the international data from polls conducted before the earthquake.

In summary from those polls: over the last decade (and possibly longer), overt opposition to nuclear power has fallen significantly.  Now (that is, from polls taken before the earthquake), a majority would support the introduction, or continued use, of nuclear power as one of the ways of generating electricity.


I’ve written a couple of times before about attitudes towards nuclear power in the UK, most recently here.

Overall, there has been a relatively consistent fall in opposition to the continued use of nuclear energy to replace existing supply:

That said, other UK polls have shown that though nuclear power may not be so widely opposed as it had been before, it’s seen much less favourably than other forms of power generation. Nuclear only noses ahead of gas and coal when it’s put in the context of global warming and climate change. Read more on that here.


Polls from Gallup show that overall attitudes in the US have followed a similar trend. As in the UK, those supporting the use of some nuclear power overtook those opposing it around ten years ago. Since then, the lead has continued to widen:

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What is it about the nuclear industry and polling?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on January 11th, 2011 by leo – 3 Comments

I never set out to pick on the nuclear industry. For one, they’ve got ready access to capital and probably know where to find a man who could administer a hearty dose of polonium.  But as I’m in the habit of writing about public attitudes to the environment and such, I’ve found it hard not to notice that the British nuclear industry seems to have a particular enthusiasm for polling.

To take a six-month period last year: in May, EDF had YouGov do a poll about different energy sources. A few months later, EDF commissioned more polling, this time among the population living near the Hinkley Point Power Station in Somerset .

Then, just two months after EDF’s latest poll, the British Nuclear Industry Association joined in the fun, with the latest wave of their own annual poll, covering, yep, attitudes towards nuclear power.

As with the earlier polls, the results are reasonably good for advocates of nuclear power. People in general are not overwhelmingly hostile to the prospect of building new power stations, either as replacements for existing ones (47% support, 19% oppose), or as additions to the current capacity (40% support, 23% oppose). When nuclear is included as part of the energy mix (along with renewable) as many as 69% will go along with it.

Probably most encouraging for the industry is that this new poll shows support for new power stations (as replacements) at its highest level since they began polling in 2001:

That said, we’ve seen in previous polls (covered here) that when compared with attitudes to other energy sources, nuclear performs much worse:

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Don’t just believe what you’re told about polls

Posted in Bad polling, Climate Sock, Energy sources, Media on November 14th, 2010 by leo – 11 Comments

From time to time a news story comes out citing a poll that isn’t in the public domain. These articles are written on the basis of a press release – apparently all the information the journalist has about the poll.

Given that journalists are supposed to be a cynical bunch, this always strikes me as surprising. By writing up the data from the press release without checking the poll themselves, they’re taking a leap of faith that they’ve been given a fair representation of the truth. Since these press releases (of course) show results that are helpful to the organisation that commissioned the poll, you would expect due diligence for a journalist to include checking the data.

A recent poll by EDF Energy, carried out by ICM, shows why this matters.

The research was conducted among 1002 adults living near the Hinkley Point Power Station, and asked about their attitudes to nuclear power and the possible construction of a new plant.

On the strength of the poll, EDF put out this press release, in which they said that “Nearly four times as many local people support plans for a new power station at Hinkley Point than oppose it”, and that “63% support the development of Hinkley Point C”. The press release was picked up quite widely by local media, including the BBC. Nice job by their PR people in winning positive local coverage.

Fortunately, ICM is a member of the British Polling Council (BPC) and abides by its rules. These rules are strongly weighted towards transparency, and include the stipulation that where research findings have entered the public domain – as in this poll – the full data and complete wording of the questionnaire must be made available.

As ever, ICM have done this, and we can look at the data here to test out EDF’s claim.

Firstly, there’s no dispute about the figures they’ve issued. As they say, 63% are “strongly in favour” or “slightly in favour” of the potential development of Hinkley Point C, and only 17% are slightly or strongly opposed.

However, being able to see the complete data also allows us to see the wording of the whole questionnaire.  The sequence of questions runs:

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