The invasion of Ukraine has thrown into dramatic relief the danger of relying on foreign, unfriendly countries for the vital energy needed to run a modern industrial state. Fossil fuel still provides 85% of global power, but the British are capping gas wells and demonising oil companies in a bid to rely solely on renewable energy by 2050. Much of this fantasy has been possible in the past because gas has been widely available and cheap.
The European Union sources about 40% of its gas from Russia. Britain still has its own North Sea resources and also buys nearby Norwegian gas. Russia provides only 4% of our gas supply and the price is set by world supply and demand. Wind and solar renewables make a 23% grid contribution, but electricity only accounts for about 25% of U.K. energy needs. These renewables, however, require enormous subsidies to be viable – £11 billion this year, rising to over £14 billion in 2026 – and provide only about 5% of UK energy requirements.
Against this factual background, it is interesting to note that Roger Harrabin of the BBC recently wrote that the best way to ease consumer’s high energy prices, “is to stop using fossil fuels rather than drill for more of them”. Harrabin was reporting on a recent statement by the Government’s Climate Change Committee that wants a tighter limit on future production and a “presumption against exploration”. Harrabin helpfully noted that producing more gas would end up being be sold on the international market, and barely reduce current high prices.
Missing from Harrabin’s report is that fracking for gas and exploring for North Sea oil would create thousands of well paid jobs for British workers, cut the UK balance of payments deficit, ensure more security of supply, increase company profits along with pension fund dividends and boost government tax revenues.
The writer Paul Homewood recently itemised the various subsides paid to wind and solar operators. Over £8.5 billion was given last year to provide guaranteed price support. A recent innovation called “Contracts for Difference” guarantees sustainable energy producers an index-linked price for 15 years. Homewood noted that the Government cannot cancel the contracts, but the generators “can withdraw at any time on payment of a small penalty charge”. A further £1.1 billion a year is paid to gas companies to stand by for when intermittent renewable generation is low. Homewood also estimates that there is another £2 billion per annum not shown in official Office for Budget Responsibility figures, which is spent on managing intermittency.
Green activists often talk about fossil fuel subsidies, although most of the figures quoted are an invented price for the supposed damage of CO2 emissions. Homewood recently reported on Government oil and gas statistics and found that over the last 20 years the tax take, minus corporation tax which all companies pay, was £43.7 billion. Corporation tax added another £52.2 billion. In addition, £29 billion is collected every year in fuel duty, none of which, of course, is contributed by electric vehicles.
Firmly embedded within influential British elites is a stubborn belief that Net Zero must be pursued, whatever the cost. Their connections to green interest groups are commonplace. The chairman of the Climate Change Committee is Lord Deben. As John Selwyn Gummer, he was a Cabinet member in the Thatcher and Major governments, but since 2012 has driven a hard line green agenda on the CCC. In 2019, the Mail on Sunday disclosed that undeclared payments had been received by his private consultancy firm totalling £600,000 from firms heavily involved in the green energy business. Deben weathered the storm and his solicitor said, “Allegations of conflict of interest and other improprieties are wholly false and misconceived.”
In February last year, Baroness Brown stepped down as the deputy chair of the CCC to take up a non-executive directorship at the Norwegian wind generator Orsted. The Baroness, a frequent media performer, is also known as Professor Dame Julia King, and according to House of Lords declarations, she is the chair of Carbon Trust and CleanTech Advisory Board, BGF (Investments). She remains the chair of the CCC’s Adaption Sub-Committee.
Over at the Oil and Gas Authority, a middling minister from the 1980s and 90s named Tim Eggar is making life more difficult for oil and gas producers. According to Eggar, who is chairman of the regulator, the industry’s “social license to operate is under serious threat”. It must do more to solve the challenges of the climate emergency. Debate about the cause of this crisis “is over”, he declares. As we have reported in the Daily Sceptic, that conversation is far from over, with hundreds of scientists debating the effect of increasing C02 in the atmosphere.
In the meantime, Eggar is ordering that Britain’s only two shale gas wells should be abandoned and sealed with concrete. Drilling at the Lancashire wells was suspended in 2019 following a well organised green activist campaign that, according to Matt Ridley, was part-funded by Russia concerned about reducing Europe’s dependence on its gas exports. An earth tremor measuring 2.9 was recorded near the site and the OGA is now reported to have said that it is not possible to predict the size of tremors caused by fracking. According to the Richter scale, a tremor of 2.9 is “generally not felt by many people, though recorded by local instruments”. There are said to be over 100,000 such minor shakes a year. Given rising gas prices, the well’s owner Cuadrilla said the OGA’s decision was “ridiculous”.
Quite whether the Russian invasion of Ukraine will jolt anyone out of this green complacency remains to be seen. In the meantime, some green activists are slowly moving towards accepting nuclear power as an energy replacement for fossil fuel. But again, events in Ukraine, with missiles flying around the Chernobyl site, might cause a rethink. Even without a fully equipped army on the march, nuclear plants remain at risk from smart missiles and cyber attacks. In 2015, a Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations – Jan Eliasson – warned a security council meeting that non-state actors can already create mass disruption using cyber technologies “and hacking a nuclear plant would be a nightmare scenario”. Of course, since then cyber attacks by hostile states seem to have increased.
But at least all is peaceful in the sleepy White House where the absurd John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy and a private jet owner, said war in Ukraine could have a “profound negative effect on the climate obviously”. Putin must remain committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Whatever they are smoking in the White House, it does not seem very good stuff. A more measured contribution came in Saturday’s Telegraph from Charles Moore. For 30 years, and particularly since the election of New Labour, he said, “we have pursued a politics which is almost proud of its self-indulgence. The big issues have concerned ethnicity, sexuality, gender, personal identity and a green lifestyle – a luxurious world where we can all become picky about our dietary preferences, micro-aggressions, well-being, pronouns and carbon neutrality.”
Turns out, the peace and prosperity the West has enjoyed is more precarious than we thought.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic‘s Environment Editor.