The government needs to stop dragging its feet on energy policy – before the lights go out

This government has been dragging its feet on energy policy since 2010.

This government has been dragging its feet on energy policy since 2010

The prospect of the televisions blacking out in the middle of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing on a bleak, cold winter evening sometime soon should focus the minds of politicians that the UK’s energy policy needs the long view when it comes to planning and strategy.

Too often politicians look at issues through a narrow short-term prism – it was Harold Wilson who said: “A week in politics is a long time.”

A collective shiver went down the nation’s spine when this week the National Grid warned that its capacity to supply electricity in the coming months will be at a seven-year low due to generator closures and breakdowns.

Spare electricity capacity, which ran at about 5 per cent last winter, would be nearer 4 per cent this year – just three years ago the margin was a more warming 17 per cent.

Unite has more than 30,000 members working in the energy sector and we believe that this government has been dragging its feet on energy policy since 2010. For example, there have been hold-ups in the nuclear power programme and we have fallen behind such countries as Canada when it comes to developing carbon capture.

For the first time since the industrial troubles of the early 1970s the spectre of the lights going out in homes across the land  has once more entered into the realms of probability.

The basis of a prosperous economy providing plentiful well-paid jobs, as well as the burgeoning domestic needs of a population of more than 60 million, is the provision of relatively cheap energy  from the ‘mix’ of coal, gas, nuclear, oil and renewables.

What we need is a balanced energy policy from an incoming Labour government that increases a dependence upon indigenous sources of fuel supply such as ‘clean’ coal and tidal power.

At the same time, we need to take on board the legitimate concerns of communities about the real and perceived threats to the environment of some energy initiatives on this crowded isle.

The National Grid has given a timely warning that the age of energy supply complacency is over – and there is no divine right that the lights will go on for Len Goodman and his fellow Strictly judges, unless we get our skates on in melding together a coherent energy strategy

As Aneurin Bevan said: “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.”

Kevin Coyne is Unite national officer for energy

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21 Responses to “The government needs to stop dragging its feet on energy policy – before the lights go out”

  1. itdoesntaddup

    The greatest procrastinator of all was David Miliband. Under his watch we saw virtually a complete halt to new generating capacity. The present reality is that with the premature closure of coal capacity and the loss of capacity to accidents and maintenance (including crucially this winter in Belgium), we are discovering that wind needs 100% backup from dispatchable sources, while interconnectors can be a two way street. That’s why the Grid conclude:

    184. For the 1 in 20 or ACS demand, a level of interconnector exports would be manageable but maximum export to the continent and Ireland would not be possible. National Grid, as System Operator, would need to take mitigating actions to avoid any loss of load. These
    include the emergency assistance service from interconnectors, maximum generation service
    and voltage reduction. We do not have sufficient data to calculate the likelihood of a full export scenario, as interconnector arrangements have recently changed and because we do
    not have all the French and Dutch market and weather data.

    185. In the event where our full reserve levels would not be met. System Warnings, such as the
    Notification of Insufficient System Margin (NISM), would be issued ahead of time to inform the market and to encourage an increase in available generation or reduction in demand. It is worth noting that Figure 25 assumes average generation losses; if generation losses happened to be less than average then margins would improve, with the converse also being true.

  2. steroflex

    “As Aneurin Bevan said: “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.”
    Yup. Allow me to add the shale gas to that. And the small nuclear power stations which could be locally manned and organised, and we could go for CHP as in Denmark.
    As it is we are stuck with the useless windmills and, pretending that this is California when it manifestly isn’t, we have the ridiculous solar power panels taking up very valuable farming land.
    It is not fair to blame Mr Miliband for the Climate Change Act of 2008 because every MP (almost) voted it in. But that certainly needs looking at. As does Global Warming. All very 1990s.

  3. David Lindsay

    Nuclear power. And coal. Not necessarily in that order.

    Plus, if necessary, anything else that might present itself.

    But mostly, nuclear power. And coal. Not necessarily in that order.

  4. David Lindsay

    And privatisation. All very 1980s.

  5. Guest

    Ah, things past their time. Well well.

    And you want about the worst way to deploy nuclear power too, as you ignore the fact that CHP can’t be retrofitted for reasonable costs.

    Then you talking about your anti-science stance, and your determination thus to dump off the costs onto the poor.

  6. Guest


    Yea, how dare dangerous old plants be shut down! Erm…
    No, that’s necessary. The problem was decades of waffling, not just Labour.

    And that’s why the government is rolling out smart meters, to disconnect the poorer areas.

  7. Guest

    Right, coal coal and coal, and nuclear gets forgotten.
    And anything else which might make you a profit and let you push off costs onto the poor.

  8. David Lindsay

    Can you read English? Not much point asking, if you can’t. But even so.

  9. David Lindsay

    With my emphasis added, here is the motion, co-sponsored by Ed Miliband himself, that the House of Commons passed without a vote last night:

    That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last fifteen years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous Government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain’s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.

    In other words, the Conservative Party no longer even attempts to deny that the words highlighted are factually correct.

    Meanwhile, we face blackouts over the winter. I cannot imagine how that can have happened.

    That, or how we are always going to war in, for or on behalf of oil-producing countries.

  10. cole

    Coal? Are you out of your mind?

  11. cole

    Ever heard of climate change? Probably doesn’t exist in your weird world.

  12. David Lindsay

    No, it is this country that is, for sitting on vast reserves of the stuff, importing it from any and everywhere else, and servicing unemployment right above it.

  13. David Lindsay

    We must reject any approach to climate change (in itself a constant fact of life) which threatens to destroy or prevent secure employment, to drive down wages or working conditions, to arrest economic development around the world, to forbid the working classes and non-white people from having children, to inflate the fuel prices that always hit the poor hardest, or to restrict either travel opportunities or a full diet to the rich.

  14. Dakiro

    As the example of France shows, UK can decarbonise in less than 20 years if new nuclear reactors are built. We can use proven technologies, as well as investing heavily into new types of smaller reactors. Instead money is invested in windmills and solar power, proudly showing off their “installed capacity” and forgetting that the difference between installed and actual will need to be filled with carbon based fuels.

  15. steroflex

    I am not often appalled by comments. Now I really am. If you do fracking, then a huge spider, twenty metres across, will come down from behind the sky and gobble you all up! Just like America.
    I believe in global warming, the tooth fairy and in Marcus Brigstocke his only son our lord…
    Oh look at me! I am so modern! I was born in 1979!

  16. Guest

    Yes yes, you must reject anything which does not make you money and does not make sure the poor suffer the impacts.

    Thanks for talking about your policy – rrest economic development around the world, to forbid the working classes and non-white people from having children, etc.

    What a surprise!

  17. Guest

    Yes, I’m sure you have all sorts of wierd religions. I’ll go with science.

    (No, not trying to sort your post out)

  18. Guest

    Let’s see…oh right, China is trying to move away from it because of air pollution alone.

    And no surprise you’d send people on workfare into the mines.

  19. Guest

    Yes. You can’t? Explains a lot, if you’re copypastering.

  20. Guest

    Except, of course, you’ve already talked about workfare in mines, people who are not covered under any scheme if they get injured, and are not able to gain any compensation for i.e. occupational disease.

    No surprises there.
    Rather than having helped communities move on, you’re trying to justify neglect and push your costs off onto the poorest. As you ignore what we use oil for.

    You apparently can’t imagine anything, so…

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    20? We’re not in the 1960’s now, reactor build times have come right down.

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