The Daily Telegraph

We need a public inq uiry into this energy disaster

- Tony Lodge is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies

Britain’s energy crisis is a direct result of a generation of crossparty policy failures and contradict­ions which have conspired to deliver a perfect storm.

Grave errors by a range of past energy ministers range from: Patricia Hewitt’s opposition to nuclear power in 2001; Ed Miliband’s refusal to back new clean coal plants in 2009; Chris Huhne renewing opposition to new nuclear in 2012; Ed Davey supporting wood pellet plants over new gas in 2013; Amber Rudd overseeing the end of carbon capture funding in 2015; Greg Clark allowing the closure of the Rough gas storage site in 2017 and Andrea Leadsom banning fracking in 2019, to name just a few.

This summary of just some of the failures and short-term policy-making mistakes of recent years ran in parallel with the conscious and consistent rundown of reliable UK electricit­y generation. Between 2000 and 2017, over a third of the UK’S firm baseload electricit­y generating capacity was closed to meet EU rules without any comparable net replacemen­ts.

Instead, ministers approved weather-dependent renewables and more interconne­ctors to import power, thus offshoring British energy jobs, resilience and security. New nuclear is already 20 years late.

In order to provide a proper understand­ing and long-overdue analysis of this systemic policy failure, a judge-led public inquiry is needed in the national interest both to prevent recurrence and to identify the key mistakes on the part of politician­s, regulators and senior civil servants.

Alongside a long list of former energy secretarie­s (17 since 1997), ex-premiers Sir Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson should also be called as they led government­s which oversaw the rundown of British energy security, diversity and resilience.

Exposing and scrutinisi­ng how we got here and the decisions taken – or not – over this period is vital as it represents one of the biggest national policy failings in the post-war era.

It has huge implicatio­ns for the economy, households, industry and future competitiv­eness – as this winter will show. News in July that the National Grid had to panic-buy staggering­ly expensive Belgian electricit­y to avoid power cuts fundamenta­lly illustrate­s Britain’s perilous energy supply. As power demand surged during the heatwaves, the National Grid paid £9,724 per megawatt hour, more than 5,000pc the typical price, to prevent London suffering blackouts.

While backbenche­rs are told to keep citing Russia and Ukraine as the reason for this very avoidable energy crunch, the real story is much more damning, concerning and homegrown. Years of ministeria­l dithering alongside bad and conflicted planning by Whitehall and network managers have helped deliver the perfect storm of high electricit­y prices, tight supplies and insufficie­nt power.

The writing was on the wall years ago following the Blair, Brown and Cameron government­s’ decision to slavishly follow EU diktat and start closing coal and oil-fired power stations without clear policies to build cleaner equivalent replacemen­ts; weather-dependent windmills and solar panels could never fill the gap. The EU’S various power station directives, first supported by the Blair government in 2001, forced the UK to start shutting key plants from 2012.

Now, ministers are desperatel­y trying to keep remaining 50-year-old coal power plants running, at huge cost, alongside the hope that they will be able to import more and more electricit­y from Europe, again at high cost. So how did it come to this? Only a full and proper public inquiry can help us find out, prevent recurrence and deliver better policies for the future.

The emergency bid to Belgium has importantl­y exposed Britain’s growing overdepend­ence on imported power. This growth has huge implicatio­ns for energy security, resilience, future bills and climate change. A public inquiry will serve to expose the dangerous and failed doctrine of draconian out-ofdate targets and poor policy-making over a generation. The public deserves to know who is responsibl­e for soaring bills and the mistakes which have led to a real risk of power rationing.

A failed energy policy inflicts huge pain on households, industry and the wider economy. We need to learn and understand how and why political leaders failed in this most critical area of policy in the national interest.

‘Years of ministeria­l dithering alongside bad planning have helped deliver the perfect storm’

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 ?? ?? Baseload electricit­y generation was cut in favour of weather-dependent renewables
Baseload electricit­y generation was cut in favour of weather-dependent renewables

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