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Editorial: Fantasy Policies Will Not Solve Our Energy Crisis

Editorial, The Daily Telegraph

Our power stations are ageing fast and replacements are urgently needed. Yet for years, our politicians have failed to act. Suspending the provisions of the Climate Change Act would buy Britain some time to get itself out of this mess.

The fire at Didcot B power station is not going to bring the National Grid to its knees. But in combination with other fires at Ironbridge and Ferrybridge power stations, and problems with the Heysham and Hartlepool nuclear reactors, it will chip away at our surplus generating capacity, to the point where blackouts will become, if not likely, then far more likely than they should be.

The underlying problem, as Brian Wilson spells out on the opposite page, is simple. Our power stations are ageing fast. We have eked out their lifespan for longer than expected, but replacements are urgently needed. Yet for years, our politicians have failed to act, promoting costly and over-subsidised renewables rather than building new gas or nuclear plants. To make matters worse, much of our capacity has been scrapped, in compliance with environmental restrictions set in Brussels.

If things continue as they are, the prospect has been raised of Seventies-style restrictions on energy use, even rolling blackouts. That is a grim prospect for a 21st-century economy. To avoid it, we first need to get serious about energy efficiency. Even if they do not help to save the planet, measures such as better insulation, or more watchful monitoring of the electricity meter, would make sound financial sense. Unfortunately, it seems to go against the spirit of the times to put on a jumper to cope with the chill; it is far easier simply to turn up the thermostat.

Beyond that, there is an obvious need for more generating capacity. New nuclear plants are at last being approved, but they are expensive to build and take years to construct. There is also a case for suspending the provisions of the Climate Change Act, to buy Britain some time to get itself out of this mess: given the amount of CO2 emitted worldwide, it will hardly doom the planet if we take off our hair shirt for a spell. We should also consider the proposal by Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, that we build small-scale nuclear reactors rather than pointless offshore wind farms.

The Didcot episode also raises extremely serious questions for Labour. Ed Miliband, who lumbered us with the Climate Change Act in the first place, has repeatedly promised that Labour will decarbonise the electricity supply by 2030. As the Didcot accident makes clear, it will already cost tens of billions just to keep the lights on – so where on earth would Mr Miliband find the tens of billions more to replace our coal and gas capacity completely? And what source of power would he use instead? This is fantasy policy, on an issue that could not be more important to Britain’s citizens, or Britain’s future.

The Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2014