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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