National Grid warned this week that Britain was at its greatest risk of a winter power blackout in half a decade. A cold snap this winter would see demand for electricity reach 95% of supply, the thinnest safety buffer, or margin, predicted by the Grid in half a decade. The margin has fallen by nearly 50% in the past year alone, largely because there has been a near-20% drop in the number of coal-fired power stations. John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, fears that the energy squeeze, and the absence of a long-term plan to address it, will start undermining growth in the next ten years.
What the commentators said
This squeeze is “entirely a result of political decisions”, as Jeremy Nicholson, director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, pointed out. Successive governments’ desire to go green has meant that polluting coal-fired power stations have been shut – just as sliding prices have made coal cheaper to burn, which is why “Germany is doing so as if it is going out of style”, said Ian King in The Times. And the new capacity that is supposed to replace coal, drawing on nuclear and renewable energy, is not yet built.
Renewables are “costly and often unreliable” – wind power always fluctuates, for instance – so creating this new capacity is proving to be a major struggle, said Allister Heath in City AM. The squeeze is now so bad that “the UK would have been toast had its industrial… output not collapsed during the recession”. The “onslaught of environmental restrictions” on energy production endures: witness the absurd fuss over fracking.
Now imagine if we compounded our counterproductive “rush to decarbonise” with Ed Miliband’s electricity price freeze, added King. The freeze would cost energy companies around £5bn. The idea that they will invest in new capacity under these circumstances is “for the birds”. Especially as they are already grappling with the cost of “absurdly expensive carbon reduction programmes and subsidies to renewables” imposed by successive governments, as Margareta Pagano noted in The Independent. What a mess.
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