Dave Toke says in the face of sustained price rises, energy efficiency has got to be the option for Britain and Labour
As the cost of energy crisis tightens its vice-like grip on the UK, and Britain is forced, perhaps by the terms of an IMF bailout, to cut down on public spending, it faces a choice on whether to throw away money on more nuclear power or spend it on energy efficiency.
In terms of the financial returns for the British public, there is no choice, really. By 2030, with an energy efficiency programme the size of that which the Brown Government put in place from 2008 to 2012, British people could earn around £1.2 billion. But if investment is being put into the bottomless pit of nuclear power, they would earn precisely nothing. That’s because the new, much-pushed-for (by Keir Starmer) Sizewell C plant, would not be completed by then. But even if it is started by the end of this decade, though it will be costing billions a year to build, it will not be generating until the late 2030s (if then).
While the modest costs of the initial energy efficiency programme would already be paid off by 2030 and generating large savings for energy consumers, Sizewell C would carry on costing the consumer billions of pounds a year until the late 2030s. And even then, it would generate power for large amounts per kWh in order to pay profits to its ‘investors’. We can see the comparison between the energy efficiency and new nuclear options in the graph above.
This dilemma – energy efficiency or nuclear power spending – will put Keir Starmer in a bad place. Is he going to displease the GMB, who are bankrolling Labour in favour of building nuclear power stations? Or is he going to save the nation a lot of money with an energy efficiency programme? He may not have a choice, as the vultures from the IMF circulate above a Britain humbled by the coming crisis and unable to borrow more on financial markets. They will demand cuts in spending. Nuclear power or energy efficiency?
All the talk about energy crisis in Europe hinges on the effects of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, but what is less understood is that a lot of the problems affecting European energy markets would exist anyway regardless of the war. Gas prices were already heading upwards before Putin started his war, and domestic price increases were being delayed by the price cap policy. Demand for liquified natural gas is surging in China and other parts of the East and developing countries. A lack of supply means that Russia (Gazprom) would be cleaning up by tightening its piped gas supplies without a war anyway.
There’s another key element to the European energy crisis that is not much talked about in pro-nuclear-dominated Britain, and that is the collapse of the French nuclear power fleet. Half of France’s nuclear power stations are offline as they degenerate with age. France is unable to replace them because building the nuclear plant in a decent timeframe or cost is no longer possible. Modern health and safety regulations for construction plants and a lack of industrial labour and skills in a modern Western economy are reasons why nuclear power is now a dated, even dinosaur technology.
The fallout from this French nuclear disaster is that France is importing massive quantities of electricity from the continental grid. This dramatically increases the demand for natural gas from power stations to fill the gap, making the natural gas crisis worse for Europe. It is also massively increasing the costs of electricity in France, something from which consumers are so far protected because President Macron has instructed the state-owned EDF to soak up massive losses – losses that the French taxpayers will have to pay later.
Yet the truth about nuclear power’s so-called reliability – or lack of it – has yet to seep through to British political minds, which are beguiled by the stories spun by EDF about their power plant. Of course, there is no problem building windfarms or solar farms by comparison. All, practically, the Government has to do is issue long-term contracts promising to pay low prices for the electricity generated by renewable energy projects, and we shall get lots of them. Unless, of course, we decide to ban wind and solar farms in lots of places, as this government is doing.
Meanwhile, this government is incapable of organising a programme that provides us with the most reliable source of energy of all – energy efficiency. It completely ignored the careful work done under the Blair and, especially, Brown governments to build up the energy efficiency programme. That was done by careful listening to the industries and trades involved about what works and what needs to be done. Instead, the Government prefers to hire expensive business consultants who propose schemes that do not work in practice or are cancelled quickly anyway. Or both.