Thursday, 26 March 2009

Exit green power, enter the 1970s

Some of us are old enough to remember life under the Labour-Conservative consensus of 1964-1979. A long stint of Labour government was interrupted by four years in which the nominally Conservative Edward Heath was top dog from 1970-1974, even in those four years nothing really changed. Burdened by uncompetitive nationalised industries, crippling rates of personal taxation and ever increasing union power the country hobbled from crisis to crisis. Much is mentioned of the Winter of Discontent, that awful period from late 1978 until mid 1979 when the unions had the government under a vice-like grip, but I have in mind today the Heath administration. I have it in mind because the country was so utterly shot that electricity supplies were cut. My particular recollection is of Saturday evenings when we had to have dinner early and then make sure we had plenty of candles. Fortunately the cuts were not random so we knew roughly when they were going to happen.

How different life is today, or is it? I wrote about this a while ago and now it's back again. An interesting commentary in The Times (brought to my attention by the most excellent Englishman) raises the prospect of power cuts through lack of supply capacity. Airy-fairy dreams of windmills and wave machines filling the national grid with wholesome juice are proving to be nothing but a nightmare, the costs of developing large-scale wind and wave electricity generation cannot be afforded in these difficult times. And still the year 2020 hovers over the country. That is when a number of perfectly serviceable coal-fired power stations must be closed to comply with an EU "green" edict.

But we mustn't worry, we have a Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change. He has quite an easy role in this. All he has to do is find a few hundred million quid out of the billions now swilling in the red column of the government ledger and we can have new coal-fired power stations before the deadline. If they get a bit behind, which they will because almost every building project commissioned by central government does, he can pretend to be French and say the EU edict would damage the national interest and must be ignored. Ah, but I forget the politics of the thing. The next general election is at most a touch over fourteen months away. Another cold winter and widespread power cuts might happen, they were very close this winter, but a dying government can always pay a vast sum to France for a little top-up from its magnificently efficient nuclear network. Why risk the wrath of the Greenies when the problem can be adjourned through use of yet more unaffordable borrowed money?

Let's go forward to 2010. There is, I suppose, always the possibility that Labour will win the next general election. Nothing is impossible, after all they still score almost 30% in opinion polls despite their solidly proven ineptitude and corruption. More likely is a Conservative victory. Just what the current Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change needs to get him off the hook. Imagine what it will be like for his successor. Freshly appointed and having access to all the inside information for the first time. It will be too late to say "Thanks but no thanks, Prime Minister, that's a poisoned chalice". The obvious, but distinctly un-green option will have to be taken up. In a way that would be appropriate because the current minister will have used up all the yellow, leaving just blue to solve the problem.

That much, I would suggest, is fairly obvious (unless something extraordinary happens in the next year or so). But my mind is caught by the fact that in 2010 the government of the UK will have to worry about how to keep the lights on, the fridges cold and the computers surfing. What an extraordinary thought that is. Some 35 years after the socialist consensus put the lights out on a regular basis, a new Prime Minister will warn that the same will have to happen again if we don't use one of our most abundant natural resources to prevent it. In fact he will have to warn of something much more serious. Then it was a few hours once or twice a week, loss of a substantial part of our generating capacity will be far worse. He will be harangued by Greenies, hippies, anti-thisses and anti-thats, yet if he did what they wanted they would be first in line to complain when their oven cuts out before their tofu and raffia casserole is ready.

How have we come to this position? How can it be that we are only a decade away from running out of electricity? There are many reasons, of course, some of which I have touched on in previous posts. Today I am simply mesmerised by the thought that twelve years of the current administration has resulted in nothing to address this long-known problem other than the hope that windmills and untested wave harnessing technology could possibly be an answer.

Let's try to put it is context. Thirty-five years ago colour television was a luxury, and there were only three channels. Radio was long or medium wave. No one had heard of compact discs or personal computers. Fax machines were in their infancy. Only posh cars had heated rear windows. Supermarket wine racks (if they had one at all) contained liebfraumilch and cotes-du-rhone. Indian and Chinese restaurants were an exotic rarity in most of the country. In short, the UK was a different and far less comfortable place than it is today. Yet we are faced with the prospect of widespread discomfort unless we do something very obvious and, compared to the other options, very cheap.

It just goes to show how damaging the Greenie agenda can be when it is not countered by common sense and an appreciation by government of its duty to keep the lights on.

1 comment:

james c said...


Your points against windmills and tofu are well-made.

I disagree though with some of your other comments.

First, the lights went out 35 years ago due to strike action against a Conservative government.

Second, the position we are now in is due to anti-nuclear dogma by both parties. The conservatives ceated a market for competing sources of electricity and refused to take a strategic decision in favour of nuclear power.

Third, Tony Blair was Prime Minister for ten years and did nothing.