The government's new energy policy will lead to widespread power cuts and economic disaster, says Christopher Booker
As much of the northern hemisphere last week froze under the snows of the fourth unusually cold winter in a row, our ministers, led by David Cameron and Chris Huhne, the Climate Change Secretary, laid out a blueprint that promises to inflict on Britain a social and economic catastrophe unique in the world. They chose this moment to announce what Mr Huhne called “a seismic shift” in Britain’s energy policy, the purpose of which, according to Mr Cameron, is to replace our “clapped-out” electricity supplies by making Britain “the greenest economy in the world”.
The chief driving force of the policy is the EU’s requirement that, within 10 years, 30 per cent of our electricity must come from renewables, mainly through thousands more wind turbines. This would be so expensive that the Government accepts it could only be made economical by massively rigging the market against any form of electricity derived from fossil fuels, such as the coal and gas which were last week supplying more than 80 per cent of our electricity. By a complex new system of regulations, including what in effect will be a tax of £27 a ton on CO2 emissions, the Government thus hopes to make renewables “competitive” with conventional power.
In addition, it will in effect make it impossible to replace the coal-fired power stations that will be forced to close in the next few years under an EU directive, while proposing a hidden subsidy to any new nuclear power stations. (Although, since the EU does not count carbon-free nuclear power as “renewable”, this may well fall foul of its ban on state aid.) All this, Mr Huhne assures us, might lead to a modest rise of £160 a year in the average household energy bill, but in the long run it will make electricity cheaper than if he had not intervened.
So riddled with wishful thinking and contradictions are these proposals that one scarcely knows where to begin. For a start, even if we could hope to build enough windmills to provide, say, 25 per cent of our electricity (10 times the current proportion), this would require not the 10,000 turbines the Government talks of, but more like 25,000, costing well over £200 billion, plus another £100 billion to connect them up to the grid.
At least the Government admits for the first time that the wind doesn’t always blow; so it proposes a Capacity Mechanism to subsidise the building of dozens of gas-fired power stations, to be kept running all the time, emitting CO2, just to provide instant back-up for when the wind drops. More than once on these recent cold, windless days, the contribution of wind to our electricity needs has been as low as 0.1 per cent – so the back-up to all those turbines will cost billions more, doing much to negate any CO2 savings from the turbines when they work. It does not take long to estimate that the capital cost of Mr Huhne’s new energy policy could well be more than £300 billion over 10 years, or £30 billion a year. Since the total wholesale cost of the electricity we used last year was only around £19 billion, this alone would be well on the way to tripling our bills by 2020.