Sunday, March 24th 2013, 5:52 PM EDT
The Tory part of the Coalition is beginning to recognise some painful truths, but it is time for the Coalition to tear up its energy policy before the lights go out.
With the worst snow conditions in the country since 1981, it’s worrying, to say the least, that gas supplies are running low. A month ago, The Sunday Telegraph warned in this column of the problems of an energy policy that puts expensive, inefficient green power before coal-fired and nuclear power. There have been a few signs that the Coalition is at last turning its attentions to the issue but, still, not nearly enough has been done. Now we are reaping the consequences. Because of a misguided faith in green energy, we have left ourselves far too dependent on foreign gas supplies, largely provided by Russian and Middle Eastern producers. Only 45 per cent of our gas consumption comes from domestic sources. All it takes is a spell of bad weather, and the closure of a gas pipeline from Belgium, to leave us dangerously exposed, and to send gas prices soaring. Talk of rationing may be exaggerated, but our energy policy is failing to deal with Britain’s fundamental incapacity to produce our own power.
Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, may have granted planning permission this week to a new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point in Somerset. But one nuclear power station, with two new reactors, isn’t nearly enough. Moreover, it will take a decade to build and, even then, will only provide seven per cent of the country’s energy needs.
It is time for the Coalition to tear up its energy policy before the lights really do go out. The first priority must be to repeal the Climate Change Act of 2008, with its brutal, punishing targets: reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and 26 per cent by 2020. These targets have already had a disastrous effect, forcing the closure of coal-fired power stations, and increasing tax-funded subsidies on wind power. Next month, electricity bills will soar even higher, thanks to a new tax on carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired and gas-fired power stations.
There are good intentions behind a green energy policy, and no one would wilfully want to damage the environment. But green technology – in its current incarnation, anyway – is just too inefficient and expensive to meet our energy needs. In some of the worst weather for more than 30 years, green power still only provides a tiny fraction of our energy needs. Solar power is of limited use in our cold, dark, northern climate. And wind power isn’t much better – cold weather doesn’t necessarily mean windy weather.
At last, the Coalition – or the Conservative part of it, anyway – is beginning to recognise these painfully obvious truths. In this week’s Budget, the Chancellor backed the policy of domestic fracking – the extraction of shale gas – with the promise of tax breaks for companies involved in the industry. He will know that American gas prices have plummeted, thanks to the US embracing the shale gas revolution. Britain must do the same. George Osborne also announced in the Budget that ceramics businesses would be exempt from the Climate Change Levy on energy costs. By making that exemption, he is acknowledging that green taxes are a significant drag on industry. He should make the exemption universal.
Our energy problems have been deepened by the greener-than-green Liberal Democrats, with their seeming stranglehold on the Cabinet post of Energy Secretary. When Chris Huhne took on the job in 2010, he swore Britain would become more independent of energy imports. Yet the country remains just as dependent, and Huhne’s Liberal Democrat colleague, Ed Davey, is still wedded to green power. Last year, he publicly slapped down his junior Tory energy minister, John Hayes, for calling for an end to more wind farms.
There is some good news, however. As we report today, government sources have said that wind power subsidies are to be cut again. This is a move in the right direction and we very much welcome it. It is to be hoped that there will be more such announcements, and concrete actions, from a government that has neglected a fundamental duty – to keep the lights on, energy affordable and our houses warm.