Boris Johnson’s Entirely Preventable U.K. Energy Crisis
Inflation and rising energy prices are roiling democratic politics around the world, and Britain is a prime example.
But while the rest of Europe is getting serious about energy policy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is drifting further into the clouds.
British households and businesses are in the grip of an energy-price emergency mostly of London’s making. [bold, links added]
Households saw the regulatory price cap for their electricity and natural gas rise 54% on April 1, and price hikes for commercial premises and industries have been even steeper.
Partly this is due to rapidly rising global natural-gas prices, which have bankrupted some retail energy suppliers. But green-energy levies and subsidies, and Britain’s consumption tax or VAT, play an outsize role.
The mystery is why Mr. Johnson thinks that doubling on renewables, as his new strategy proposes, will deliver energy security, let alone manageable prices. Yet think that he does.
The one sensible element of this week’s strategy is a pledge to triple nuclear electricity generation to 24 gigawatts by 2050 compared to eight gigawatts today.
But that nuclear bet is a long-term ambition and the rest of the plan fails to achieve much any time soon.
For instance, Mr. Johnson increases what already was an ambitious target for offshore wind power to 50 gigawatts in 2030 from the previous goal of 40 gigawatts and the current capacity of 11 gigawatts.
Mr. Johnson all but kills off onshore wind, however, by promising it still will be subject to local zoning control.
Wind turbines would spoil the view of England’s green and pleasant land—and offend rural supporters of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative party—so they’re a no-go despite being cheaper and faster to build.
Mr. Johnson is worse on fossil fuels. He promises to issue more licenses for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.
But those will be subject to a new environmental review to check for “climate compatibility” and come as the government still promises to phase out most fossil-fuel consumption.
Why would private investors rush to drill under those conditions? Mr. Johnson makes no mention of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which could unlock shale gas reserves in the north of England. The rural Tory gentry struck again.
The clearest sign of Tory desperation on prices is Mr. Johnson’s plan to re-nationalize the unit of the national grid operator responsible for matching electricity supply and demand throughout the day.
This has become a harder and more expensive task as the renewable share of Britain’s power supply has increased because renewables are so unreliable and firing up alternatives on short notice is so costly.
Mr. Johnson assumes this will be easier to manage if the government does it. Maybe he can get Labour’s former hard-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to run the nationalized grid.
The biggest head-scratcher is the politics. A Tory strength has long been that voters trust the party on the economy, but a recent YouGov survey found 69% of respondents think Mr. Johnson is managing the economy fairly badly or very badly.
Some 76% think he’s botching his response to inflation, of which energy prices are a major component.
That cries out for a leader who can deliver cheap and reliable energy such as domestic gas in a hurry, rather than costly and spotty power in a decade or three.
Mr. Johnson’s obsession with climate change is leading the Tories toward deep electoral trouble.
Read more at WSJ
Trackback from your site.