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House Debate: Is The Green Lobby Responsible For The UK’s Growing Energy Crisis?

The House Magazine

Every issue two Parliamentarians email each other with different ideas on a particular subject. This week Peter Lilley and Baroness Worthington discuss: “Is the Green lobby responsible for the UK’s growing energy crisis?”


from: Peter Lilley
sent: 28 May 2013 11:03

Thanks to Green ideology, Britain is facing a double energy crisis.

First, a supply crisis – potential electricity shortages within a decade. This is not because demand is outstripping supply. The recession has depressed demand. But existing coal plants are being closed because of the EU emissions directive. Nuclear plants are due to close through old age. No replacements are under construction because of decades of environmentalist opposition. Wind, solar, tidal are intermittent, cannot provide base load and need fossil fuel back-up for substantial periods. But the Climate Change Act makes it impossible to build new fossil fuel plants for base load.

Second, a cost crisis – driving more people into fuel poverty and manufacturing jobs abroad. There simply are no affordable renewables: all cost at least twice as much as fossil fuels – offshore wind three to four times. Greens argue that by investing in them we will accelerate technological development so that costs become competitive. Even if it does Britain will be saddled with the high cost prototypes and our competitors overseas will reap the rewards of our investment. Meanwhile environmentalists claim rising gas prices will make renewable competitive while raising spurious objections to shale gas – our one hope of lower cost energy.

from: Baroness Worthington
Sent: 29 May 2013 10:37

Dear Peter

Let’s put this in perspective – yes some old coal plants are closing but this reduces the historically high over-supply, which has been deterring investment, to normal levels. Economics have stalled new nuclear, not green groups. Wind and solar are helping to reduce imports of fossil fuels and not all renewables rely on varying sources of energy – biomass has played a significant part in our move to low carbon electricity and is increasing.

Do you really believe we alone are developing renewable technology prototypes? Where we are, you see costs, but investors see profits and I see jobs and benefits to UK balance of trade. Also, to be clear, new fossil plants fitted with carbon capture and storage are possible, a technology that the UK could lead in.

You must surely accept that fuel poverty has been exacerbated most by rising gas prices. Shale gas could provide a respite but it’s not certain cost reductions achieved in the US will be reproduced here. Some may oppose on principle; others call for sensible sustainability criteria, benefitting everyone living near potential drill sites. But it’s just as likely – perhaps more – that Tory Nimbys will be doing the objecting in the end.

Best, Bryony

from: Peter Lilley
Sent: 03 June 2013 16:17

I am surprised that you are unconcerned about the potential capacity shortage? Ofgem is. You tacitly accept that wind and solar cannot provide base load or spare capacity. The only renewable that is ‘dispatchable’ is biomass which you say plays a significant part. How much? If it were subsidy and carbon free it would be welcome. But even shipping the limited availability of waste chips and off-cuttings requires a big subsidy; as we start felling forest any carbon saving disappears for a generation.

The notion of green jobs created by subsidy is a sophisticated version of Luddism. We could ‘create jobs’ (gross) in hand loom weaving if we subsidised it enough to replace mechanised weaving. But taxes to fund subsidies destroy as many jobs elsewhere in the economy. Fossil fuels give more power per job than renewable, which is the real measure of value.

Insofar as our subsidies promote technological development, sadly nearly all of it is overseas – not here.

I agree higher gas prices increase fuel poverty. They should also reduce the subsidy necessary to make renewables economic but that does not seem to have happened. Why add to the problem by more high cost renewable?

Best regards

from: Baroness Worthington
Sent: 05 June 2013 07:10

Dear Peter

Ofgem is not responsible for keeping the lights on, National Grid is and it maintains a tightening margin will produce the natural market response: new investments. Ofgem, unlike Grid, also has a notorious blind spot when it comes to demand management.

Clearly some renewables require a new way of managing electricity but they free us from the merry dance of world fossil fuel prices, which are only increasing in the long term.

Costs of renewables have shown they can fall sharply over short periods – can we be as confident in relation to gas prices?

I don’t see why you single out renewables as if they were the only recipients of subsidy. Are the decades of subsidies to offshore oil and gas industries, and the new shale gas subsidies, also ‘job killers’? Or necessary to establish a home grown source of power?

In measuring the value of different power sources you have to factor in the huge externalities related to fossil fuel use. Until we find ways of producing power cleanly they cannot be relied upon to meet our energy needs. With a decarbonisation target we can do this in a technology neutral way – why do you not support this?

Full debate