Everyone agrees that the recovery of the UK economy requires two elements: first, spending restraint. Second, economic growth.
George Osborne has won plaudits for his robust approach to spending restraint (even if we may quibble over the details). But on growth, there’s less good news. Despite all the talk of rebalancing the economy, and making the UK a good place for investment, we have little to show for it. A series of reports from business organisations accuses the government of failing to live up to its rhetoric, and delivering little on the growth agenda. Rather than rebalance the economy by promoting manufacturing, we are planning new taxes that seem designed to drive energy-intensive businesses off-shore.
We need a review of taxes on employment and enterprise. We need a serious, radical review of the regulatory burden that holds business back — reform is always promised, too rarely delivered. But there is one other key area where action is an absolutely necessary condition for growth, and that’s energy policy. As things stand, we look set to give the UK the highest energy prices in the world.
New figures from Utilyx, the energy consultants, forecast that electricity prices will rise by 58% by 2020. At that stage, green taxes and related infrastructure costs will represent 38% of the price. This is not something imposed from the outside (except to the extent that green polices are mandated by Brussels — another reason we should be Better Off Out). These massive — unsustainable — rises are the result of deliberate policy decisions made by the Coalition, by DECC, by Chris Huhne. They will fatally undermine Britain’s competitiveness in the global economy.
If DECC and Huhne don’t understand the consequences of their decisions, then they are in dereliction of their duty. If they do understand, and are pressing ahead anyway — then words fail me. They are apparently setting out deliberately to sabotage our economy and to pauperise our children.
So there is a clear message for George Osborne: Unless you want to see your economic plans scuppered by green zealots, you need to start waving the big stick now.
Recognise that wind power implies building the same capacity twice over — once as gas-fired power stations to provide conventional back-up; and again, at far greater expense, for the wind turbines. Remember that the gas-fired back-up will run inefficiently, intermittently, as it responds to the vagaries of the wind, and that the gas-fired units will therefore be more expensive to run, and emit more CO2, than they need to be.
The solution is staring us in the face: just build the gas-fired plants, and forget the wind. Gas is increasingly plentiful, and (if you care about such things) relatively low on CO2 emissions. Only gas will keep the lights on in the medium term. For the longer term, we need nuclear and coal. Renewables may have a place at the margin, or in remote locations, but we should remember that wind turbines are garden ornaments, not power stations. As Shaun Spiers of the CPRE has remarked, wind turbines “risk becoming the redundant relics of our compulsion to do something”, even if the something is damaging and counter-productive.