Politicians have come to believe many things about decarbonisation that are not true. This applies just as much to those in opposition as it does to those on the Government benches.
Ed Miliband, for example, has become convinced that offshore wind is nine times cheaper than gas fired electricity. Unfortunately, he has been taken in (and to be fair, this is a perennial risk in the energy domain); claims of cheap renewables are little more than vapourware – disinformation from activists. Hard data, in the shape of the financial accounts of windfarms, utterly refutes them.
It is not just the shadow Secretary of State either. Sir Keir Starmer seem to believe that going harder and faster for Net Zero is the way forward, and that it will deliver cheap energy and green jobs. But this is not true either.
Net Zero is a project to completely transform society, but the specific policies pursued seem to have been chosen because they feel good, rather than as the result of any rational analysis. For example, almost all the critical engineering questions remain unanswered; most have simply been waved aside. For example, nobody knows where we are going to find tens of thousands of extra engineers from, or the millions of tonnes of rare minerals required. Nobody knows how, in the space of 25 years, we can possibly dig up every urban street in the country to upgrade the distribution grid. Nobody knows what we are going to do when the wind doesn’t blow. And nobody knows where we are going to find the trillions of pounds it will cost. There is not even a cost-benefit analysis (although there can be little doubt that the former outweigh the latter by a considerable margin).
We have been trying to decarbonise the economy for twenty years. Thanks to renewables, our electricity prices have risen almost every year since we began (even when gas prices have been falling), and are now among the highest in the world. As a result, we have lost almost all of our energy-intensive industry. Port Talbot is just the latest domino to fall, but our fertiliser factories are all gone too, and our last aluminium smelter is being kept afloat on an ocean of subsidies. The motor industry is under severe threat, as we legislate the life out of internal combustion engines, in which we enjoy a technological edge, in favour of electric cars, in the competitive advantage is all China’s. Green jobs to replace those lost are few and far between.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a shambles. This being the case, Labour’s enthusiasm for doing more of the same, but faster, is hard to comprehend. If they do, they will regret it. The result will be wholesale deindustrialisation.
Indeed, a Labour administration is likely to face an energy crisis in its first few years in office regardless of the policies it pursues. Reliable electricity generation capacity is dropping quickly, as gas and nuclear power stations retire. Nobody wants to replace them because it’s almost impossible to make money with so much subsidised wind and solar on the grid. That means that when the wind doesn’t blow, energy prices will soar still further, and blackouts and brownouts may follow. The idea that Port Talbot will be replaced with an electric arc furnace is for the birds.
The sheer absurdity of Net Zero has compelled even the chairman of one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers to sound a warning. Joe Kaeser, chairman of Siemens Energy, has spoken of the fairytale thinking that besets politicians, and he warns that electricity prices will keep rising unless governments focus on gas.
He is surfing the crest of a wave. Across Europe, the retreat from Net Zero has begun. Sweden has junked its targets altogether, Germany is expanding its use of coal, the French have abandoned their renewables targets and are going to expand their nuclear fleet once more.
So the writing is on the wall, and Labour would be well advised to start focusing on how they are going to turn things around in the UK. Net Zero will soon be seen as the greatest calamity to befall these islands since the Black Death. Nobody will want to carry the can for that.