Last night I attended another of Giles Chichester’s European Energy Forum Dinner Debates. This was with Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, and because the Commissioner was coming, the event was exceptionally well attended — well over a hundred, I’d say — with the energy industries of Europe well represented. I sat next to a guy from the German coal industry.
The Commissioner presented his dream of a single European energy market, a cat’s-cradle of interconnectors, smart grids, and more renewables, with the constant leitmotif of “more Europeanisation”. And he was at pains to refer several times, and in very warm terms, to “our Russian partner”, which I took to be Gazprom.
As frequently happens, I managed to get in the first intervention from the floor, announcing myself as usual as UKIP’s Energy Spokesman. I first congratulated the Commissioner on rating energy security ahead of “sustainability” (European-speak for compulsive greenery). We so often hear of the “three pillars” of EU energy policy: sustainability, security of supply, and competitiveness, but in my experience everything else is subservient to green orthodoxy, and security of supply and competitiveness can go hang. So credit where it’s due: Oettinger did at least prioritise security over climate mitigation in his speech (if not in his policy programme).
I suggested that he might also like to prioritise competitiveness and energy prices ahead of “sustainability”, since without economic growth he would certainly not be able to afford his profligate green policies and renewables.
And I added that our UK experience of “Europeanisation of energy” was that we were being required to close down half a dozen perfectly good coal-fired power stations. Was the Commissioner aware that our UK Regulator Ofgem only this week was warning of power cuts and an “horrendous energy crunch”?
Oettinger gave a circuitous answer in which he appeared to blame Britain’s privatisation and liberalisation of the energy market for our problems. He didn’t mention the closure of the coal-fired power stations under the Large Combustion Plants Directive at all.
In a spirit of friendly banter, Giles, chairing the event, remarked that’s he’d hoped my contribution would be “short and to the point”. My German neighbour remarked, sotto voce, that he thought it had been just the right length, and exactly to the point. I noticed that most subsequent interventions were longer.
On leaving (and rather to my surprise) the Commissioner made a point of coming over to my table and shaking me by the hand. I said that I still didn’t understand why we had to close our coal-fired power stations — at which he marched off with his entourage, with a knowing smile. Of course the Commissioner knows that he is getting towards the end of his term (next year), so someone else will have to pick up the pieces when it all falls apart.
I recall that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, on leaving office, moved with indecent haste to a lucrative appointment with Gazprom. I hope Oettinger isn’t considering a similar move.