WITH the recent suggestion by the electricity network that factories and businesses could be asked to ration power use to prevent blackouts, the announcement of UK shale gas reserves that – if recoverable – would be the largest in the world comes in the nick of time. We must take on the unholy alliance of vested interests, from Vladimir Putin to Friends of the Earth, who want to stop Britain grasping this energy lifeline.
The energy drought we face is stark. Regulator Ofgem now warns that our back-up energy stocks will fall to 2 per cent by 2015. The chances of blackouts will increase from one in 47 years to one in 12 years. Up until now, we’ve faced the unsavoury choice of keeping coal-fired power stations running – which is bad for the environment – or waiting for the lights to go out. For all the hype over current renewable technologies, they can’t meet UK energy needs without unthinkable hikes in prices. The last Labour government’s reckless failure to replace ageing power stations, and its infatuation with forcing customers to squander billions subsidising inefficient technologies like solar panels and wind farms, saw the number of households in fuel poverty double between 2004 and 2010. That left 5m homes struggling to stay warm in winter.
In truth, the environmental bandwagon, rolling since the Kyoto Protocol, has not made Britain greener. As Oxford University’s energy professor Dieter Helm argues, politicians’ obsession with current renewable technologies amounts to picking “winners [that] turn out to be some of the most expensive ways known to man to marginally reduce carbon emissions.” The government estimates that CO2 emissions produced in the UK fell by 19 per cent between 1990 and 2009, while emissions consumed rose by 20 per cent – driven by a near quadrupling of emissions produced to create Chinese imports. We haven’t kicked our carbon addiction, just replaced domestic with foreign suppliers.
A renaissance in nuclear power can help meet long-term energy demand, while decarbonising the economy. The coalition is close to a deal with EDF for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. But replacing the capacity Labour left to rust will take time – and that is running out.