By Paul Homewood
Dominic Lawson wraps up some of the points we have been talking about recently:
You think the government’s policies over Covid-19 have been confused and contradictory? Compared with those it is pursuing in the field of energy and industry, they have been a model of good sense and intellectual rigour. But while shortcomings in the former are revealed within weeks, in mortality figures, flaws in energy policy take years to emerge — by which time the politicians responsible have comfortably retired from the scene.
But there are already straws in the wind. So to speak. Last week — as is not unusual in a British January — temperatures dropped below freezing, while wind speeds also dwindled. Result? To quote Tuesday’s edition of The Guardian: “Electricity market prices have surged tenfold in a day to reach a record high of £1,000 per megawatt hour … wind turbines come to a virtual standstill only weeks after setting a new generation record.” According to one trader quoted in the article, the UK “is at much greater risk of blackouts this winter than the National Grid has forecast”.
It is wind power on which the government has staked this country’s energy future. Boris Johnson boasted absurdly that we would become the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Saudis were enriched because they were able to export their oil globally and at vast profit margins. The effect of increasing our dependency on indigenous wind will only add to the likelihood of the sort of market panic we witnessed last week — and of blackouts.
This was set out with painful clarity by the late government chief scientific adviser Professor David McKay in 2016, 11 days before his death: “Because time is getting thinner and thinner I should call a spade a spade … There is this appalling delusion people have that we can take this thing [renewables] and we can just scale it up and if there is a slight issue of it not adding up, we can just do energy efficiency. Humanity really does need to pay attention to arithmetic and the laws of physics.”
There are also the laws of economics. When launching his 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution” (there are always 10, because prime ministers think they are Moses) Johnson promised a “green recovery — with high-skilled, high paid jobs”, and even gave precise numbers: 60,000 new jobs in offshore wind, for example. As the Financial Times’s Jonathan Ford observed: “According to the … National Grid, the total cost … of getting to net-zero is of the order of a thumping £160bn a year over the next three decades. It is hard to imagine that this wouldn’t create some jobs along the way … But where are all these workers to come from? Most likely by diverting people from other, possibly more economically valuable pursuits.” Such as ones not subsidised by the taxpayer, or by energy users in the form of much higher bills — which is a form of impoverishment, not enrichment.
The people who will suffer most from the government’s equivalent of the USSR’s five-year plans (which had about as much economic sense) are precisely those on whom it relied for its election victory in 2019 — and whose fortunes it has pledged to restore. Last week the think tank Onward, in a report signed off by two former ministers, one Labour and one Conservative, pointed out that of the “10 million jobs” threatened by the government’s commitment to excise UK CO2 emissions by 2050, far and away the greatest concentration were in the former red wall constituencies that had put their faith in Johnson.
The report supported the net-zero plan wholeheartedly. It simply observed the result would be that “the industrial and manufacturing heartlands in the Midlands and the North are far more likely to experience economic disruption during the net-zero transition than the southeast and London … That many of these places were worst hit from the deindustrialisation of the 1980s and 1990s reinforces this problem.” I’ll say. Not so much “levelling up” but pushing back down and then stamping on its neck.
British governments’ actions to date in adding more expensive non-fossil-fuel-based energy to the bills of industrial users have not only continued our deindustrialisation but have actually caused global emissions to increase, not decrease: the manufacturing has been outsourced, above all, to China, whose use of coal is more intensive than that of any European country. As Dieter Helm, the professor of energy policy at Oxford, puts it: “The story for the past 20 years is that in Europe we have been de-industrialising, and we’ve been swapping home production for imports, so even though it looks to the contrary, [our policies] have been increasing global warming.” Marvellous. Carry on, chaps. Just remember to turn the lights out as you leave. Assuming you could still afford to have them on in the first place.
All this, to reduce the likely global temperature average by an almost immeasurably small amount — given that the UK’s emissions are only about 1% of the planet’s total, a proportion that in any case is falling as China’s and India’s grow unchecked.
And will British governments remain Greta Thunberg-compliant when the voters realise what the policies mean to them personally? The fact that, ever since the fuel-price protests of 2000, no British chancellor has dared to reimpose the fuel price escalator tells us something about what happens when ideology encounters public resistance in a democracy.
It might also explain another thing that happened (very quietly) last week. The government decided to permit development of the country’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years. The pit will be in the Cumbrian constituency of Copeland, one of those former Labour strongholds that switched from red to blue. Its MP, Trudy Harrison, is the PM’s parliamentary aide. The pit will create about 500 local jobs and provide the coking coal indispensable for the blast furnaces of what remains of the country’s steel industry in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot.
Since the alternative would be to import the coal from, probably, Russia, or Australia, this is highly rational as well as politically expedient. The nearest Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron, complained: “It is disappointing yet unsurprising to see the Conservatives putting winning votes in marginal seats ahead of tackling the urgent and burning need to tackle the climate emergency.” Because, of course, the Liberal Democrats have always been known for their principled refusal to exploit local issues to retain parliamentary seats.
Anyway, the government does seem committed to spending well over a trillion pounds to make the country less productive and therefore poorer, to no perceptible benefit in terms of the future global climate. Apart from that, it all seems very sensible.
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January 11, 2021 at 11:24AM