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Anti-Gas Activists are Running on Empty

Connor Tomlinson

With the release of the British Energy Security Strategy, Business and Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced the government intends to “maximise domestic production in the North Sea.” Tapping just ten percent of the 7.9 billion barrels of oil, and 560 billion cubic metres of gas in the North Sea would satisfy national consumption demands for fifty years. Given families are facing £693 on average being added to their energy bills, thanks to the fifty-four percent increase of Ofgem’s price cap, one would think self-proclaimed poverty abolitionists would be praising the repatriation of fuel production. So why, then, do opposition politicians and climate apocalypse lobbyists continue to undermine efforts for Britain’s energy independence?

The PM keeps pushing the line that the only way of ensuring that we “can’t be blackmailed by Putin again” is to phase out fossil fuels completely. But that gargantuan feat is not as easy as Stop Oil protesters, zip-tied to goalposts, believe. All grids need a consistent, dispatchable energy baseload for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind won’t blow — and gas does just that. Also, despite two new gigafactories in Sunderland and Blyth, rare metals shortages mean we won’t all be driving electric cars anytime soon either. We need fossil fuels fast.

But the usual suspects have condemned the Strategy’s intention to extract the multi-trillion treasures beneath our feet.

The Labour Party continue to call for a windfall tax on the fossil fuel industry—to raise Treasury income for payments to offset increasing energy bills. However, as the CBI pointed out in their response, businesses are facing the gas price rise too, while also paying energy bills beyond the costs of households covered by the price cap. These increasing costs are being factored into the price of goods and services, further driving inflation. The notion that Labour’s windfall tax, too, would not increase the costs of oil and gas products further is economically illiterate.

Another element of the energy security strategy is the Government’s strange obsession with heat pumps. A Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition will reward successful innovators with £30 million for facilitating the 2035 gas boiler ban. But many buildings cannot accommodate cavity wall insulation. Heat pumps are also less effective in winter months, and an engineer skill-shortage and space limitations limit their installation and operation. Further subsidies for heat pump installations will overwhelmingly go to the richest households when that money would be much better spent on insulating poorer households who are being hit hardest by this crisis.

Heat pump demand is also being artificially driven by stealth taxes on gas boilers — raising costs for ninety percent of households. One short-term solution to slashing costs is cutting these subsidies. Twenty-five percent of energy bills are “green levies” for the renewables industry; part of the sixty-five percent of energy bills which are additional expenditures on top of wholesale gas and electricity costs. If renewables are as cost-competitive as advocates claim, then these redistribution schemes should be first on the chopping block to save consumers some cash.

But the renewables-only brigade know their energy source of choice is unviable without the taxpayer propping it up. Boris has promised renewables will power every home by 2030; but the notoriously unpredictable British weather produced eleven percent generation troughs in 2021, and turbine-breaking storms this February. Even if renewables were reliable, they remain expensive. The Green Party promises a renewables-only grid: costing upwards of £3 trillion. Storage would require quadruple existing capacity; costing consumers £20 extra every MWh, with only twenty-four minutes of energy in reserves when windfarms max out. Generation would still fail to meet demand by 74.5 percent. That’s not energy security: that’s suicide.

Even engineers at Britain’s biggest onshore windfarm agree the need for a reliable baseload. The Strategy suggests nuclear power can provide this: with Boris promising a new nuclear reactor will be commissioned every year, until 2030. But lone Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, claims the UK “doesn’t need nuclear energy.” This claim flies in the face of the UN’s IPCC, whose report the Greens often misread and cite as proof of an imminent climate cataclysm.

Perhaps Lucas’ renewables-only activism is inspired by her work with Greenpeace: whose head has been appointed climate czar of Germany, famous for its disastrous effort to de-nuclearize its grid. The resulting rolling blackouts can be blamed on activists, bankrolled by Russian company Gazprom; who profited from the resulting Nordstream 2 pipeline. Putin poured millions into funding anti-fracking activists, to make the West dependent on his gas monopoly. Green Party policies will produce the same result: always leading us back to gas, but with larger shares coming from unsavoury sources.

Nuclear power remains a safe, cost-effective, and emission free method of electricity generation. Nuclear made France the world’s richest energy exporter: making €3 billion annually from selling surplus electricity. Its high upfront capital for construction remains an impediment to adoption. But the new Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act, which I have helped to influence through my research with the British Conservation Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute, attracts private equity investment and avoids impoverishing the taxpayer or relying on China to cover costs.

But in the decades those plants will take to construct, we must extract black gold and gas — not least of all for the millions of homes whose hobs, boilers, and cars are not electric, due to cost or privacy concerns. There is no practical energy policy which will appease the renewables-only ideologues in Whitehall, Brighton, or swinging from Tower Bridge. Many of those committed to Net Zero do so as a statement of faith, despite price or pragmatism.

We should listen to the former Brexit Secretary, Lord David Frost, and get cracking on fracking. If ministers lift the moratorium on shale gas exploration, and give existing wells more than a stay of execution, then repatriated gas manufacturing could heat over 125,000 more homes by the end of 2022. Politicians must stop caring for the concerns of Astroturfed agitators, paid to complain in every policy consultation how state spending never goes far enough, if working people are to heat and eat without going broke.