As if Theresa May’s appalling Brexit betrayal was not sufficient to make her a contender for the title of ‘worst prime minister of all time’, in her dying days in charge she pushed through an amendment to Labour’s Climate Change Act, committing the UK to become ‘net zero’ in terms of carbon emissions by 2050. The original Act, passed in 2008 by Gordon Brown, was bad enough, obliging Britain to cut its emissions by 80% compared to their 1990 level, but May, clearly infected by a lunatic desire for some sort of ‘legacy’, used a statutory instrument (a parliamentary procedure that avoids a parliamentary vote and therefore denies MPs any ability to scrutinise legislation) to raise this all the way to 100% – despite a warning from the Chancellor that this would cost the UK £1 trillion.  

I am not going to discuss here the issue of whether man’s emissions of CO2 are responsible for climate change. The famous astronomer Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, but when it comes to the extraordinary claim that man is influencing the planet’s climate the science is far from settled (despite what the obsessives claim) and there is no conclusive proof one way or the other. The point I want to make however is that, even if one believes that man is causing damaging climatic changes due to our CO2 output, surely the sensible solution would be to focus on those countries which are the main culprits. The UK’s share of annual global greenhouse gases is less than 1%, and every cut that we make (at great expense) is more than made up for by an increase by China, which is now responsible for pumping out approximately 30% of these gases – and more each year! For us to cut our CO2 output is therefore as effective as trying to empty a bath of water with a teaspoon while China is filling it up with a bucket. So Britain’s actions are utterly pointless and are, to borrow a phrase, having a ‘net zero’ effect on reducing the global level of CO2. 

Now you might think that with May gone and Boris Johnson in, this would mean an end to this nonsense – but no, believe it or not things have actually got worse! Once elected Boris lost all sense of reality and went even further: he introduced a 2030 date for an end to the sale of any new petrol or diesel cars, and promised to “decarbonise the UK’s electricity system by 2035”.  Bringing forward Britain’s net zero obligations just exacerbates the problem and is making Britain, and every British citizen (and that means you), a lot poorer. Consider this: the two main forms of renewable energy that the government has invested in have been wind and solar power, but there is an inherent flaw in both of these: they are unreliable and intermittent. Solar energy is, obviously, only available during the day, and wind energy only when the wind blows.  Britain has spent billions of your money to build a theoretical capacity to produce 14 GW of solar energy, another 14 GW from onshore wind turbines and 11 GW of offshore wind energy (these are the government’s own figures), but as I sit here right now the reality is that wind power is producing only a pathetic 1.1 GW of energy and solar power 3.6 GW (there are websites which monitor usage and production in real-time). The vast majority of the energy we need to survive is coming from gas and nuclear power, with top-ups from biomass, coal, and electricity imported from Europe through interconnectors. In other words, there is only enough wind today to produce 4.4% of the capacity the government keeps boasting about, and even though it is a bright afternoon where I am, we are only producing 25.7% of the solar power we should, in theory, be getting. As dusk falls this will, obviously, reduce to zero. Boris Johnson drivels on about the supposed “climate emergency” around the corner, but the real emergency that we are faced with today is one of energy supply.  

This is the background to the eye-watering increases in domestic fuel bills that every household is now experiencing. On the first of April Boris the Betrayer decided to play an April Fool’s trick on the British people, by increasing the price cap on gas and electricity prices by 54% – except that this was not a joke, but a genuine and terrible blow to all those struggling to pay their bills. The public outcry has forced the government to pretend to listen by publishing a new ‘strategy’. Politicians live in a parallel world where words are all that matters, and that if you announce a policy all problems are then immediately solved. Of course Boris refused to do anything practical, such as cut the VAT on energy bills (which thanks to Brexit we could now do, and which he promised to do when he wanted our votes), or drop the so-called green levies which force us all to pay for birdbrain Boris’s environmental fantasies. These have multiplied and morphed out of hand: Energy Company Obligations, Renewables Obligation Certificates (which changed into Contracts for Difference), the Green Gas Levy, the Climate Change Levy, the Feed in Tariff, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and God knows what else. Actually, this last tax, the ETS (which is, effectively, a carbon tax, increasing the price of fossil fuels), shines a very revealing light on how Boris has betrayed both Brexit and Britain and completely failed to use the freedoms that leaving the EU gave us. While members of the EU we were part of their ETS, so when we left we could have scrapped this scheme and reduced the price of energy to both consumers and businesses. But no, Boris went and set up a UK version – and not only that, but this actually increases the price of fossil fuels more in the UK than the EU ETS does on the continent. If you want an idea just what level of insanity we have reached under this Conservative government, in 2020 the International Monetary Fund recorded a global average carbon price (in the 60-or-so countries with an ETS) of just £2.30 per tonne, but we in Britain are currently paying around £70 (it fluctuates slightly according to demand)! That’s why your energy bills are so high.   

So what did the government’s ‘British energy security strategy’ say? Firstly, it doubled down – indeed, quadrupled down – on Boris’s obsession with wind power. Quite why he is so fanatical about an energy source that is so unreliable is open to question, but knowing how government works (as a former senior civil servant) I suspect this is due to very influential lobbying. I have no objection at all to renewable energy, but you would have thought that an energy security strategy would focus on, well, energy that is secure. The clue is surely in the word! If we want energy supplied by nature and pollution-free (and why not?) the sensible option would be deep geothermal energy which is reliable and available every minute of every day and, given our geology, has the potential to provide around 25% of our electricity. But no, the government does not mention one single concrete proposal to develop this. Instead, it says it will increase offshore wind generation to 50 GW, so that “by 2030 we will have more than enough wind capacity to power every home in Britain” – well, maybe, but only when the wind is blowing across every wind farm!  

Geothermal power station types.
Images, public domain – Goran tek-en, United States Geological Survey

Apart from geothermal energy, another sensible approach for the government to take would be to accelerate the development of nuclear energy, and while they do refer to this, as we all know, fine words butter no parsnips. The government say they will build 8 new nuclear reactors. Déja vu, anyone? In 1979 the Conservative government announced a programme of 10 nuclear reactors over the next decade. Only one was actually built. In 2010, the Conservative coalition government announced 8 new reactors. Again, only one has been built – at Hinkley C, and even that is still far from finished and will not come on stream until 2026 at the earliest! In any case, despite all the fanfare about supporting nuclear power, the government’s ambition is limited to increasing the share of our electricity produced this way from the current 20% to “up to” 25% by 2050 – hardly something worth getting the bunting out for!  

A 3D model of the Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power

While most people are, understandably, primarily concerned with the cost of their domestic fuel bills, we must not forget the huge problems faced by those industries that are large energy users and who have to pay up to 60% more than their European competitors. Supporting British industry should be the priority of any sensible and patriotic government. British companies pay corporation tax to support the British economy and they employ British workers, who themselves pay tax and whose spending power supports their local economies. The wide range of benefits of a healthy industrial base are so obvious that we should not need to state them, but why then does the government seem intent on stabbing them in the back? ‘Make UK’, the manufacturers’ organisation, responded to the government’s energy strategy by saying: “these projects cannot be delivered quickly and at a time of spiralling energy costs and a myriad of other financial burdens on business, industry desperately needs urgent action on the part of Government to reduce energy prices in the short term. Make UK has already called for a reduction in the carbon price via the cost control mechanism within the UK ETS, the removal of the additional Carbon Price Support tax that only UK customers pay and that Government consider removing the Climate Change Levy – all of which would drive down energy costs now.”  

One of the top specialists in this field, a company called ‘Crowe UK’, said: “Soaring energy costs are a huge challenge to the manufacturing industry. This is not just a short-term cashflow issue, it is about the competitiveness and survival of UK manufacturing. There is a very real risk that factories will have to close as they become unviable with too-high energy prices. Yet, it seems manufacturing has been forgotten in this strategy. Firms are given no support with immediate costs and no incentives to invest for the long-term. As governments in other countries have been stepping in with support packages worth billions to support businesses through the energy crisis, we risk destroying our manufacturing base and seeing it go abroad.”  

So the government is forcing up energy bills, driving domestic consumers into poverty and industrial users out of business. Well done Boris, brilliant. But what should the government be doing?  Firstly, the immediate action which is needed to cut energy prices right away is to scrap all the green levies, as well as VAT on energy bills. At the same time, we need to encourage energy companies to increase their output of UK gas and oil. The government has, in fairness, made a small step in this direction in terms of the North Sea, but there is a great big gaping hole in their energy strategy when it comes to exploiting the UK’s huge reserves on onshore shale gas. I acknowledge that this is a controversial topic, as many people have been frightened by scare stories about the extraction method, known as fracking, and all shale exploration has been suspended since 2019 when there was a small earth tremor at a shale gas site in Lancashire operated by a company called Cuadrilla.  

There are widely different estimates as to how much shale gas is beneath our feet, and how safe it is to extract, and the issue has become extremely politicised. The government, sitting on the fence as usual, has merely said they will commission “an impartial technical review”, hoping that this kicks the whole problem into the long grass where it can be forgotten. This isn’t good enough. ‘Ineos’, Britain’s chemicals giant owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, believes it can extract shale gas safely and is willing to put its money where its mouth is. It has offered “to develop a fully functioning shale test site to prove that this technology can be used safely by a competent operator. We will happily invite anyone to inspect what we do and if, at that stage, the science proves there are problems then we will stop and make good the site.” This seems an eminently sensible way forward, but the government just doesn’t want to know, even though if we could extract just 10% of the gas in England alone this would meet all our gas needs for 50 years and be worth £3.3 trillion! It should also be noted that the science has moved forward and Prof Richard Davies, a petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, has now said that earthquakes resulting from fracking are unlikely to be a major risk. “We lived with them without much concern during the coal mining era,” he pointed out. “During coal production, vast numbers of earthquakes were created in the UK”. As we saw with the government’s panicked reaction to Covid, it has become so risk-averse that it is becoming paralysed with fear. This is not a strategy for national success!

The government should also be much more assertive in promoting nuclear energy – of the right kind. This means that instead of trying desperately to get foreign nuclear companies to build their power stations here, we should be focusing on a British-designed and built solution: the Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor (SMR). Unlike the big foreign designs which are one-offs, built on site, and which are never either on-time or on-budget, SMRs are mass-produced in a factory and transported to the site. Rolls-Royce have been making nuclear reactors for our military submarines for decades and can be trusted to produce nuclear power plants that are quicker to make, smaller, cheaper and safer. We could create a massive export opportunity for Britain and become self-sufficient in nuclear power. The government’s support for this technology has been tentative and slow, and their energy strategy contains only one reference to SMRs: to discuss their international regulation!  

There are, of course, a host of other technologies that could be developed: waste gasification, advanced modular reactors, nuclear fusion, wave and tidal energy and more. A sensible and patriotic government would be pushing all of these forward, trying to encourage British solutions that benefit Britain and the British people. Unfortunately we do not have a sensible and patriotic government – we have Boris the Buffoon and his Conservative Clowns. Sorry Theresa, the title of Britain’s worst prime minister of all time is still up for grabs!

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