Energy crisis is critical moment for Boris Johnson – Bernard Ingham

WELL, we now know where we are going: to Utopia, Eldorado and Shangri-la all rolled into one. Boris Johnson’s soaring rhetoric and unbridled optimism knows no limits. It’s a tonic just to look at him.

What should be the future of Britain's energy policy?

When – or whether – we shall reach his promised land is another matter. But if he takes us only halfway there we shall be laughing and the French utterly impossible.

As we face a new, immensely difficult political year ushered in by the party conferences there is one nagging question: how to get to there? It is one thing to specify the objective but entirely another to provide a map.

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Our Government is as full of ambition as it is empty of plans to achieve them.

Is Boris Johnson guilty of neglecting the energy crisis?

Perhaps that reveals the dire straits in which the pandemic has left it. All it can do is to try to cheer us up as the problems and shortages mount.

Take, for example, Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, extolling the virtues of wind and solar power as a reducer of power prices in the long run. He didn’t hazard a guess as to how long that run will be, assuming that Boris’s idea of building thousands more environmentally offensive wind turbines cuts costs.

But the unavoidable fact is that neither wind nor sun are reliable and always cost more than is claimed because it ignores the price of keeping alternative stand-by sources idle.

Which brings me to those alternative sources, given that Boris has promised to decarbonise electricity generation by 2035. That will eliminate coal, oil and gas-fired power stations. Coal has already virtually disappeared from the scene.

How can energy supplies be best protected this winter?

Five clean nuclear power stations are to be retired over this decade, starting next year, and it is anybody’s guess when the big and vastly expensive new plant at Hinkley Point will come on stream, given the endless delays in completing similar power station designs in Finland and France.

Yet already the National Grid is issuing warnings about supply this winter with the lowest safety margin for six years. And there is still the vast demand from electric cars to come.

I do not under-estimate the ingenuity of the National Grid to keep the lights on, but it is going to have its work cut out this winter. Electricity imports from the Continent have been reduced by a fire in the cross-Channel cable which the vindictive French have threatened to close down if we don’t let their fishermen into our waters.

Europe – and to some extent Britain – is also vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail if the Germans don’t complete a gas pipeline from Russia that will further compromise Western security. We have also very little gas storage capacity thanks to the closure of the Rough facility in the North Sea. Has the West completely lost its marbles?

Meanwhile, winter approaches with energy prices feeding into inflation, industry concerned about its competitiveness and the poorest and elderly wondering how they are going to meet their energy bills. The warmest and cheapest place in the coming months may be in bed.

And where are the economic sources of power to replace fossil fuels as Insulate Britain increases the nation’s costs and greenhouse gas output with its idiotic blockage of motorways?

That tells you where unthinking zeal gets you. The blind environmental lobby is blocking a new mine in Cumbria for essential coking coal that the steel industry would otherwise have to import.

I can hear the hullabaloo now of any move to resurrect fracking for the gas and oil that almost certainly lie under our feet and more North Sea oil and gas exploitation is taboo in their eyes. Yet Drax power station is subsidised to burn imported polluting wood!

So, what else is there apart from rigorous economy? Hydro-electricity is strictly limited by geography. We have been playing with wave power for more than 40 years. The French have not repeated their long-established tidal power project.

Carbon capture remains in the development stage. Small modular nuclear reactors are certainly a hope for the indeterminate future. So is nuclear fusion, though it is a sick joke that it is always 40 years away.

I don’t blame Boris Johnson or his Government for this alarming scenario. It represents a collective failure by politicians and their advisers for at least 30 years. But he has to handle it. It will take more than flights of fancy to get us through it reasonably intact.

Sans energy, sans heat, sans light, sans everything. Utopia, where art thou?

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