On Tuesday I attended the first post-election event of the European Energy Forum (EEF), of which I have been a prominent member for many years. A lot of the best MEPs in the Forum have failed to return after the recent election, so I feared that attendance would be poor, but many newbies showed up, and the room was full.
This was the first major EEF event chaired by Jerzy Buzek, former Polish Prime Minister, former President of the European parliament, and now Chairman both of the Industry & Energy Committee (ITRE), and of the EEF. Mr. Buzek is a charming, generous and gracious man, and I am very happy that he will be taking over the EEF rôle previously held with distinction by Giles Chichester.
Our sponsor and co-host for the evening was Eurogas, a trade association representing the gas industry across Europe. We heard from its President Gertjan Lankhorst; from Dörte Fouquet, of the European Renewable Energies Federation; and also from Marie Donnelly at the European Commission’s DG Energy, where she is Director of Renewables, Research and Innovation. Mrs Donnelly is a feisty Irish Lady whom I have frequently met before, and while I rarely agree with her, I recognise that she has a good grasp of her brief.
After the formal speeches, I was very pleased that Jerzy Buzek followed the precedent created by Giles Chichester of inviting me to make the first speech from the floor. The speech was not recorded, but it went more or less as follows:
Mr. Chairman: My name is Roger Helmer, and I am the Energy Spokesman for UKIP. As many of you will know, UKIP doubled its number of MEPs in the May election from twelve to twenty-four, and now has the largest UK delegation in the parliament. May I take this opportunity of thanking our hosts for an excellent dinner.
I have to say that was disheartened by Mr. Lankhorst’s vision of Europe being progressively covered with a carpet of wind turbines and solar farms. But I take comfort from the reflection that it’s not going to happen. Wind turbines have little scope for efficiency improvements. They are hopelessly inefficient and expensive, especially when you take account of intermittency and the need for back-up. Europe just can’t afford to keep squandering money on them. Photo-voltaic is different. There is considerable scope for improved efficiency. Indeed in ten years’ time we will look back and be astonished that in 2014 we were prepared to waste billions of euros on such hopelessly inefficient, old-fashioned and obsolete technology. But by then we won’t be wasting good agricultural land on solar farms. In all probability we will have thin film technology which will enable solar generation to be installed unobtrusively on the windows of offices and apartment buildings.
Then Mrs. Fouquet told us about the problems for the renewables industry of investing without firm European renewables targets in place. Mrs. Fouquet, I hope you will forgive me for paraphrasing your comment. What you really mean is that you can’t invest without firm subsidy commitments in place. Your whole speech was a thinly-veiled plea for more public funding, more conspicuous waste, more damage to European economies. You expect subsidies for installing renewables, subsidies for operating them. You speak of the synergy between renewables and gas, but you don’t mention the next layer of subsidies – the “capacity payments” to enable the back-up gas to operate unprofitably and intermittently.
Then I come to Mrs. Donnelly, and may I say, Marie, what a pleasure it is to see you here. I always enjoy hearing you speak. You reminded us that the EU claims to have three objectives in energy policy: “sustainability”, competitiveness, and security of supply. You insisted that these must all be kept in mind; that they are all equally important. Fine words. But you know as well as I do that for years – for all the fifteen years that I have been in the parliament – the EU has pursued “sustainability” obsessively, to the exclusion of competitiveness and security of supply. That is why we’re in the mess we see now. That is why energy prices in Europe are sky-high, and why energy-intensive industries are moving out of the EU altogether, taking their jobs and their investment with them.
The fundamental point we need to recognise, Mr. Chairman, is quite simply this: that your “renewables” are, in a word, unsustainable.