Energy crisis: We shall not protect the environment without a soundly economic energy strategy - Bernard Ingham

Soon, I trust, we shall know whether our Government is politically, strategically and aesthetically dead from the neck upwards. It cannot be much longer before its long-awaited energy policy paper sees the light of day.

Gas hob ring. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA.
Gas hob ring. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA.

The signs are ominous. Only last week I took heart when Boris Johnson, while still aiming to surround this sceptred isle with wind farms, seemed to run away from more on land. Now we are told officials are working on a vast extension of both and even trying to make it easier to overcome planning objections.

The PM also sounded more positive about the continued exploration and development of North Sea oil and gas and the few fracking wells that have been sunk near Blackpool were given a reprieve.

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They are not to be plugged – or at least not this year.

But we have not heard a thing about the continued absurdity of subsidising Drax power station in Yorkshire to burn biomass – imported wood chips – and add to pollution both through combustion and transport.

I thought the objective was to eliminate greenhouse gases as quickly as possible to secure a net zero carbon economy by 2050. Nowhere have I seen proof that the pollution caused by biomass fuel will be offset in time by planting trees in place of those felled.

The Government has also gone quiet over the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria to provide the steel industry with coking coal that would otherwise have to be imported. It is also unaccountably silent on reopening the Rough gasfield in the North Sea as a strategic gas store – a folly that has come home expensively to roost with Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The only bright spot is Mr Johnson’s new enthusiasm for carbon-free nuclear power, but even then we have to ask what type of reactor he is going for – one that works or the latest expensive French kit at Hinkley Point in Somerset that is beset with long delays where it is being built in Finland and France.

To put the tin hat on it, we then learned that many more square miles of solar panels covering an area equivalent to Exmoor are contemplated.

This will take out more productive agricultural land on top of that lost to what is called re-wilding.

In old Hebden Bridge, where I was brought up, re-wilding would have been regarded as a fancy term for letting the land go to rack and ruin.

In short, the Government seems hopelessly confused. To be fair, it is in part the victim of its 30 years’ obsession with the environment which has left us with insecure energy supplies. But that is no reason for compounding the felony and also prejudicing strategic food supply

It is all the more frustrating when there is nothing complicated about looking after the national interest.

It can be stated simply: to ensure secure supplies of energy at least possible cost while reducing as quickly as possible their environmental damage.

This simple formula has been ignored for decades as militant environmentalists have, like their wokerati descendants, sought to impose their sometimes conflicting demands on the body politic.

They – and the politicians and civil servants who wilted before them – have much to answer for.

We might reasonably have hoped that someone as intelligent as Boris Johnson would have seen through it all and ended the nonsense we simply cannot afford with an economy ravaged by the Covid pandemic.

After all, he has latterly demonstrated his capabilities by setting an example to the world with a measured, thoughtful and firm approach to the Russian menace that has won him admiration in Ukraine.

More to the point, the de-stabilising of world markets has painfully brought home the need for energy and food security in this dangerous world.

There is no security to be had in wind turbines or solar panels which have also wrecked land- and seascapes. How anybody can object to fracking when, unlike turbines and solar panels, it can easily be hidden behind all the trees we are supposed to be planting, is beyond me.

If the new energy policy does not sanction more North Sea drilling, fracking, the Cumbrian coal mine and a nuclear power programme building reactors known to work - e.g the Sizewell B PWR – and promote research and development into clean energy, it will fail the nation.

We shall not clean up the atmosphere and protect the environment without a soundly based and economic energy strategy.

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