This post first appeared on Business Green.
On Friday afternoon, a spoof twitter account sent the great and the good of the energy world into a frenzy of speculation. It was the climax of an odd week, during which everyone seemed to be asking each other “Who are Power Line?”. At one point, a senior banking employee called and asked me if I knew. He’d been asked by one of his clients, a major building company, who had, in turn, been asked to find out by their major trade association.
But, when the Power Line’s website actually launched, it turned out to be nothing particularly exciting or, indeed, sophisticated. It runs a countdown to the day when, according to the Power Line, the lights will go off, and it implies the UK will then suffer a similar crime wave to South Africa’s 2009 blackout-fuelled robbery spree.
Two reasons why the Power Line story provoked a reaction
Why did a brief story in the Sunday Times reporting on such a minor event, provoke such a flustered reaction from the world of energy and environment? I think there are two main reasons.
First, people want to be in the loop. The story claimed that the Power Line had the support of major businesses and consumer groups. It evidently didn’t, but the claim made major businesses and consumer groups nervous. They hadn’t been asked, but they were major, weren’t they? Why hadn’t they been asked? As Matthew Sinclair of Tax Payers’ Alliance pointed out, this was probably a lobbying tactic to try and generate membership, just as record labels used to claim their products were only available in “all good” record shops.
Second, it spoke to the sector’s rising paranoia. George Osborne’s every word is currently analysed in case it’s a dog-whistle to Tory backbenchers against green measures. This, and the collective paranoid response to the Power Line story, is an indictment of the government’s negative effect on the confidence of the environmental sector, despite it representing a third of our nation’s growth. Matthew Lockwood’s piece on why climate targets aren’t yet self-reinforcing is well worth a read on this very topic.
Who are Power Line and their supporters?
We really shouldn’t be so cautious. I don’t know who exactly is behind the Power Line, but a bit of Googling makes me think it’s not the illuminati.
Initially, a cosmetics PR company named Vivid was going to help run the campaign (since last week’s revelations, they’ve now said they won’t be involved). A few weeks ago a company named Wastetofuel Ltd was registered at the same office as Vivid, in Leatherhead. Its director has the same name as the Power Line’s co-ordinator, Philip Stephens. A man with the same name, and date of birth as Wastetofuel’s director, also once ran Small Science, which had a couple of radical ideas for ending “cataclysmic climate change”. There is no way of knowing for certain at this stage if this is the same Philip Stephens who appears to have worked for British Energy a few years ago, or the Philip Stephens who recently ran Myconcierge, which will rescue you if your mobility scooter breaks down. There certainly appears to be one or more entrepreneurial Mr Stephenses out there, but none of them are a Rockefeller.
The only supporter currently listed on the Power Line’s website is the Major Energy Users’ Council, a small trade association whose details I had to Google. In searching, I found a slide presentation by their chair about why we should all go green.
Why we shouldn’t worry
The Power Line’s goals don’t seem nefarious: they want to question the effectiveness of the carbon floor price, and whether we are decarbonising in the most cost effective way. That’s important, and we do need a plan to protect energy bills, while ensuring that as much of the green economy as possible is built in the UK. But the Power Line isn’t likely to be a leader in that debate, and it’s embarrassing for the Sunday Times to have been so easily misled, twice over.
The green economic sector has nothing to fear but fear itself. If it is seen to be jumping at shadows, investors won’t be reassured. Those standing against the green economy are not the mainstream. They have to argue why they’re against both economic growth and environmental protection. It’s a hard, eccentric sell. The FTSE 100 are on the right side. They are measuring emissions and investing in cleantech. We shouldn’t be so easily worried.
Follow Alastair on Twitter @harperga
See our infographic Green economy: a UK success story, Green Alliance, August 2012