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Christopher Booker: Clueless Huhne Turns His Back On Cheap Gas

With immaculate timing, our Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, has again demonstrated why it is hard to think of any minister in history less fitted for his job. Last month, it was announced that 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas had been discovered, embedded in the shales under Lancashire, which could herald an energy resource even larger than North Sea oil and gas. Thanks to technical advances pioneered in the US, which already draws 20 per cent of its gas from shale, we might be looking at reserves big enough to power Britain’s economy for centuries to come.

Yet that same day, it was reported that Huhne had been telling an audience of Lib Dems that we must halt the “dash for gas”, because this would prevent us from meeting our commitment under the Climate Change Act to cut our CO2 emissions by 80 per cent within 40 years. He even cited approvingly an absurdly mendacious propaganda film produced by US global warming zealots vilifying shale gas.

So lost is Huhne in his green dreamworld that he somehow imagines that we can centre our future energy policy on building thousands of wind turbines. Faced with the discovery of vast reserves of cheap gas, any minister who knew his job would say: “Forget about those ludicrously expensive, inefficient and unreliable windmills, and go flat out for building enough gas-fired power stations to keep Britain’s lights on in the years ahead, when we will lose 14 coal-fired and nuclear power stations that currently supply 40 per cent of our average electricity needs.”

Of course, we are compelled to waste £140 billion on those wind turbines due to our commitment to the EU that by 2020 we will generate nearly a third of our electricity from “renewables”. But among the countless practical aspects of his job that Huhne clearly doesn’t begin to understand is that the more turbines we build, the more we will need new gas-fired power stations of the same capacity, just to provide instant back-up for all those times when there is insufficient wind to feed more than a derisory amount of power into the grid.

So we will have to build those gas-fired stations anyway – at vast expense, to be kept wastefully running all the time, emitting more CO2 than anything notionally saved by the wind farms – just to indulge the babyish dreams of Huhne and the EU. Crazier still, if Huhne manages to stop the exploitation of our new shale gas resources, he will be condemning us, as North Sea supplies run out, to importing ever more gas and oil from abroad, at a cost that a government report predicted in 2008 could soon be £40 billion a year.

So obsessed is Mr Huhne with all the fluffy rubbish associated with the “climate change” part of his job description that he has never shown the faintest sign of grasping the practicalities of the “energy” bit. He has become very much a luxury we cannot afford. But so too, it must be said, is our commitment to the EU to build those useless windmills.

The Sunday Telegraph, 2 October 2011