Christopher Booker: Greens Routed As Shale Gas Wins New Enthusiasts
Last week saw a truly momentous defeat for the green lobby groups which, in the past decade, have exercised almost complete control over Britain’s future energy policy. The fact that this took the form of a mighty slapdown for Lord Deben (formerly John Gummer), newly confirmed chairman of the Climate Change Committee, makes it all the more telling.
As his first act on being appointed to head this committee, set up to advise the Government under the 2008 Climate Change Act, Lord Deben wrote an extraordinary open letter to Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. This expressed his committee’s “great concern” over a statement by Mr Davey in July that indicated that Britain must continue to rely heavily on gas to produce electricity. Although Mr Davey is still proposing to build 30,000 inefficient and unreliable wind turbines, he was implicitly recognising that these could only help to keep Britain’s lights on if they are supplemented by a massive new “dash for gas”.
As I wrote at the time, this drives a coach and horses through Britain’s legal commitment under the Climate Change Act to reduce CO2 emissions by four fifths in less than 40 years. Lord Deben’s letter made exactly the same point. In the letter, signed by seven members of his committee, all unquestioning believers in the need for renewables to combat global warming, he and his colleagues went even further. Astoundingly, they called on Mr Davey to issue a statutory instrument banning the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity. Of course, they did not put it like that. They urged him to impose a maximum emissions limit on power generation of 50 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh). But since only nuclear and renewables are below that threshold, while gas emits 400 grams per kWh and coal 700, what in effect they were calling for was an end to any further use of the fuels that currently supply some 75 per cent of our electricity.
Furthermore, they were pressing for this act of economic suicide not just to meet our legal “low carbon” requirements but also because any “dash for gas” would divert investment away from the “renewables” industry they so passionately favour. As we know, Lord Deben himself has long been heavily involved in various “green” companies that stand to benefit from the subsidised renewables bonanza. Before he could be confirmed in his new post, he had hurriedly to resign as chairman of a firm planning the world’s largest offshore wind farm and as director of another planning a Severn tidal barrage. Only thus could his nomination by David Cameron be approved by the Commons committee on energy and climate change, chaired by Tim Yeo, who is himself heavily involved with various green energy firms, which last year paid him £200,000 on top of his parliamentary salary of £80,000. As Lord Deben’s letter to Mr Davey pointed out, Yeo’s committee has also backed the demand for a ban on electricity from fossil fuels.
What they could not have expected was Mr Davey’s response. He trenchantly dismissed their calls, restating his view that we urgently need a massive new investment in gas generation. Only after 2030 would this require the “carbon capture and storage” that, as Mr Davey has already admitted, is still an “unproven technology” (and is likely to remain so). So the first message of last week was that the once hugely influential Climate Change Committee in effect has been kicked into touch. In the name of keeping Britain’s economy running, the Government seems now determined to break its own law.
What makes all this even more significant, however, is that it is taking place against the background of a truly astonishing worldwide energy revolution. As can be seen from the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, country after country is now rushing to exploit the shale gas that, in the past four years, has more than halved gas prices in the US. China, Germany, France, Russia, South Africa and others all have immense reserves that promise to provide the world with cheap energy for centuries to come. And, here in Britain, determined moves are at last being made to reverse the Government’s grudging negativity towards our own vast shale gas reserves, led by our new Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who seems to be winning surprising support for his enthusiasm for shale gas from key officials in his own department and the Environment Agency, which has regulatory responsibility for this new industry.
After years when our energy policy was being dictated by green wishful thinking, by the likes of Lord Deben and by state-subsidised pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth (which first invented, then helped to draft, the Climate Change Act), reality is at long last breaking in. The green make-believe that has cast such a malign spell over our country for far too long is finally on the run. Truly, last week was history being made.