Bernard Ingham: The naked emperors of environmental nonsense

CRYING wolf is not a useful occupation. It can disarm as well as alert. Yet, for several years now, the onset of winter has brought out the doom-mongers. We have been warned that the lights could go out.
Fire crews spray water at the scene of the fire at Didcot Power Station in Oxfordshire.Fire crews spray water at the scene of the fire at Didcot Power Station in Oxfordshire.
Fire crews spray water at the scene of the fire at Didcot Power Station in Oxfordshire.

The fact remains that we are living on borrowed time. Our electricity supplies are falling into the danger zone.

At worst, the plant safety margin could be down to two per cent next winter. At least twice that amount has been lost at the start of this winter by two nuclear power stations at Heysham and Hartlepool being out of action because of cracks in their boiler systems and last weekend’s fire at the Didcot gas plant in Oxfordshire.

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We are living dangerously. Whatever grievances we have about the price of electricity, the most expensive in growth, output, jobs, income, public order and the lives of the vulnerable is the power that is not available when needed.

We may, of course, be lucky. It could be another mild winter. Alternatively, the contingency plans could work. All sorts of diesel generating plant and mothballed gas stations signed up by the National Grid as standby could spark into life during peak demand on frosty days to save the nation.

The cost to us as consumers for this contingency supply will be horrendous – roughly six times the current wholesale price of around £50/MWh. But that – and the risk of blackouts and brownouts – is what you get when daft environmentalists and vacant, politically correct politicians take over energy policy.

Together they hang like a millstone round the neck not merely of the UK but also substantial parts of Europe. For now, America has probably escaped their worst excesses by the discovery of shale oil and gas.

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What we need more than anything else today is the rise of the rational environmentalist. I pride myself on being one.

I do not dismiss the theory that man and his combustion of fossil fuels are warming up the planet. There is regular local evidence of this in the night-time weather maps on TV that consistently show lower rural than urban temperatures.

But nobody – repeat nobody - in this wide world knows the extent to which carbon dioxide (CO2) is warming the Earth, if it is warming it at all, because nobody even remotely understands 
the hundred and one complexities that enter into the making of the climate.

Oh, the daft environmentalists pour out computer warming predictions like water from a tap. But if they have put rubbish – indeed, incomplete rubbish – into their infernal machines, all they get out of them is rubbish, too.

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Western politicians have shown an abiding interest in this rubbish. It led Ed Miliband, as Energy Secretary, to carry an excruciatingly expensive piece of legislation called the Climate Change Act through Parliament in 2008. It committed us to cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent (on 1990 amounts) by 2050 at an estimated cost of £18bn a year in the daftest ways possible.

His faith in the wind, waves, tides, sun and biomass (wood) has been messianically followed by two Lib Dem coalition Energy Secretaries – Chris Huhne and Ed Davey.

For years now these emperors have been consistently told they have no clothes. Only recently Owen Paterson, former Tory Environment Secretary, and the Scientific Alliance, which seeks a rational approach to policy, have pointed to their nakedness.

But the British consumer is still being milked by the Government as distinct from the Big Six energy suppliers principally for wind, solar and biomass-generated electricity which does 
little – and never will – to reduce CO2 emissions.

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Wind and solar are largely useless without fossil fuel back-up because 
their unreliable output cannot be stored in bulk and biomass, as a substitute for coal, is an outrageous con.

Let us by all means take seriously the possible threat to the planet of CO2 emissions. But let us employ practical measures to reduce it instead of wasting our substance on trendy Greenpeace nonsense.

The daft environmentalists and their even dafter acolytes in politics have done enough damage.

What we need for the foreseeable future is a reliable mix of coal, gas and nuclear plant instead of closing more of it than we are building.

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The politicians have six (winter) months before the election to recover their sanity and come up with sound, practical ways of securing our electricity supplies.

For all our sakes, let us hope that they manage to do this without their policy plunging us into stygian gloom.

It is time they served the national interest of providing reliable, 
economic low-carbon power at the 
flick of a switch.