As the lights go out in Europe, Britain must forge a new energy policy

“Turn off that light!” Wartime conditions are returning to parts of Europe as they go from lockdown to blackout after Vladimir Putin cut gas flow from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% capacity. The city of Hanover, an icon of European prosperity and way of life, which was in political union with Great Britain from 1714 to 1837, is reducing its energy production by turning off the lighting in public buildings and cutting off the hot water supply, limiting ambient temperatures to a maximum of 20C and reducing heating hours in municipal buildings from October to March.

Other German cities, including Munich, Leipzig, Cologne and Nuremberg, are making similar arrangements, while darkened public buildings in Berlin are reminiscent of wartime restrictions. Officially, the aim is to meet the EU’s demand for a 15% reduction in gas consumption in the Member States, but in fact Germany is a special case – in energy terms, a case desperate – and author of his own misfortunes.

Over the past decade, much has been said about the “legacy” of Angela Merkel. Well, there it is: the cities and businesses plunged into darkness facing Europe’s worst energy crisis are the legacy of Merkel’s insane reliance on Russian gas supplies to light and power Germany. . This is what happens when a highly developed industrial society puts its energy supplies at the mercy of a ruthless and belligerent dictator. There is no excuse for Merkel: she was not hired by the psychotic successor of a reasonable statesman, Putin was already in power when she subjected his country’s energy supply to his whim .

France is not in better shape. Unlike Merkel, France eagerly embraced nuclear power; Fukushima did not scare the titled Enarques. Unfortunately, France’s energy authority, which is largely state-owned, French Electricity (EDF), appears to have kept its nuclear plants to Chernobyl standards, so that only 26 of its 57 nuclear reactors are operating, with the majority out of service and undergoing emergency maintenance after cracked pipes were discovered.

So, at this point of crisis, France is largely dependent on gas-fired power plants, unpredictable hydro and wind power, as well as imports. No wonder Emmanuel Macron spends so much of his waking hours on the phone with Vladimir Putin. This month, the French grid made an emergency request to Britain for extra power – at the height of summer. The French energy crisis is exacerbating soaring prices on the European market and, by extension, the Eurozone crisis: it seems likely that inflation has set in to become endemic in the Eurozone economy.

The whole of the European Heath Robinson machine is threatened, in the long term, by the perfect storm which currently assails it. Soon anyone who claims Britain’s woes are due to Brexit will simply be told to look across the Channel. If we had stayed in the EU, our problems would have been compounded by a mandatory 15% reduction in gas, i.e. energy, consumption in an altruistic attempt to bail out improvident and incompetent Germany. .

This does not mean that we are immune to energy price pressures in continental Europe. The UK is fortunate to only depend on Russia for 4-6% of its gas supply, but wholesale prices in the UK, for example for delivery next month, are up to 12% higher due to Putin’s Nord Stream 1 game. Britain has made itself vulnerable to rising prices by closing the gas storage facility at Rough on the Yorkshire coast. So we are making quick money by exporting record volumes of gas to Europe which should be stored for the winter in the UK.

The outlook for next winter is quickly becoming apocalyptic. The energy price cap is expected to average £3,500 by October, with the autumn increase of 74%; inflation is already heading towards 11%, but rising gas prices will push it up. By January, the monthly household energy bill is expected to reach £500. This is entering life-or-death territory for some of our citizens, while energy costs could end businesses that have survived the pandemic lockdown but can no longer face punishment.

Whoever becomes prime minister in September will have to face a crisis as demanding as the war – partly derived from the war, in Ukraine. The first task should be to appoint a dedicated Secretary of State for Energy, exclusively focused on the crisis and reporting to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (whose membership would be a necessary attribute of the position) on a weekly basis.

This Secretary of State for Energy should be separate from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and focused exclusively on the state of energy supplies, with the mission of accelerating oil and gas exploration licenses in the North Sea and any other promising regions. We must also try to get other supplies from reliable sources such as Norway. Lord Frost would seem a likely candidate for a post which would require the incumbent to do for energy today what Lord Beaverbrook did for aircraft production during the war.

A Secretary of State for Energy should review the promotion of nuclear power. Planning has been granted for Sizewell C, now investors are needed. But our greatest asset should be British skill and inventiveness. Our universities should be encouraged to prioritize hydrogen research and all other potential energy technologies; even if only some of them work or are profitable, all avenues should be explored.

While widespread public spending cuts are a key reform of the new ministry, as in the early days of the pandemic, increased support for households facing unaffordable energy bills may be unavoidable. Liz Truss, our most likely Prime Minister-in-waiting, seems to smell like coffee, with her promise to suspend green levies on household bills for two years, although more relief than that will be needed.

Britain should not face an energy crisis. We are an island of coal in a sea of ​​oil. Every well in the North Sea that can practically be exploited should be commissioned, rhythm Nicola Sturgeon; petroleum licenses are a reserved power. All the smug and blind mentality which, in the interests of virtue, seeks to prematurely cut off our fossil energy supplies, must be discarded. Both Tory leadership candidates have pledged to allow fracking where the local community does not object. Does such a community exist? Are we neglecting an important energy asset for lack of education of an audience relentlessly propagandized by green fanatics?

Priorities must be radically reviewed. Every element of energy bills linked to green levies must be removed, regardless of protests from lobby groups. In today’s reality, hypothermia is a more immediate danger than global warming. All the extravagances of government and local authorities must be pruned. We could even draw some lessons from European cities: why, in an unprecedented energy crisis, are our cities disfigured by hectares of garish neon?

Nothing like a war to confront people with reality. One of the consequences of this crisis is that it puts an end to any controversy over net zero, certainly the ambitious timing of the objective, since the resources no longer exist to implement it.

We need to find out from neutral scientists the likely climate changes of the next three decades, as peculiar to Britain, and devise a tailored response, rather than galloping before the world in unaffordable gestures, begging ourselves and shredding our energy infrastructure as China opens ever more coal-fired power plants. Since the immediate cause of the current energy crisis is Vladimir Putin’s aggression, we should also invest heavily in his defeat by Ukraine.

Mary I. Bruner