Catalogue of errors
When the Coalition government came into office just 15 months ago, amongst the briefings prepared for incoming ministers was one on international fuel prices. Specifically how they were likely to go up (or down) over the next 15 years.
These were of course only ‘guesstimates'. But they were prepared by some of the most knowedgable people in the land on such matters. According to their central planning scenario on anticipated traded energy prices, it was apparently likely by 2025 oil would have increased from the then current $70 per barrel up to as much as $85 per barrel. Gas would have moved from 58 p to 71p per therm. Whereas coal would actually get a little cheaper over the next few years, falling from (then) $85 to around $80 per tonne.
As we go to press, Brent oil is now well over $110 per barrel. Gas is already almost at 71p per therm. And coal is already at least 50% more expensive than it was last May. If you appreciate that this was the accuracy of the strategic guidance incoming Ministers received, you can have some sympathy with incoming ministers. And appreciate quite why the Electricity Market Reform white paper is such a chapter of errors.
Be afraid. Very afraid
I haven't laughed so much in ages. Two reactors at EDF's Torness nuclear power station have had to be taken out of service for weeks. Because of an invasion of some really scary monsters. These monsters are - wait for it - jellyfish.
You'd think it would take a shark or two heading upstream, or even a lost whale, to bring the might of the Great God Atom to a standstill. But no, such is the deep sensitivity of these power stations, that something as apparently innocuous as jellyfish can obstruct the cooling water filters sufficiently to require a complete closedown. I understand from the Marine Biological Association in future there are likely to be more and more jellyfish swimming all around our coasts. This is because there has been such enormous overfishing of smaller fish, which are jellyfish's natural predators. Thus leaving our fearsome jellyfish that much more room to reproduce.
The anti-windpower brigade keep blithering on about how a flock of birds can cause havoc with the odd blade they fly into, and thus occasionally knock a turbine or two out of action for a bit. But somehow that is all very minor compared with the havoc that will be caused from now on at nuclear plants dotted all around our coasts. Beware the Return of the Jellyfish. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Spirit of the blitz
What have Germany, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Switzerland and now France got in common? Answer, each has a government that has either declared, or is seriously considering, withdrawal from running nuclear power stations. Or never wanted anything to do with them in the first place.
Even the new Finnish government energy minister, the wonderfully named Vile Ninisto, has announced no new construction permits will be issued during this parliament's term of four years.
The rest of the list of leading European countries is familiar dispiriting territory for lovers of the Atom.
But France as well? I kid you not. Energy minister Eric Besson has launched a series of scenarios for France in 2050. With options that include a progressive reduction of electricity consumption in France. And a complete exit from nuclear production.
Next May there will be a French Presidential election. The opposition Socialist party has called for a moratorium on all new nuclear construction. The latest opinion poll reveals 75% of French people now want to withdraw from nuclear power - with only 22% backing any form of nuclear new build.
As the UK government repeats its commitment to build a family of ten new nukes, it seems we are becoming isolated from the rest of Europe.
There are now apparently more nuclear PR men on the payroll than there are nuclear engineers. It can only be a matter of time before these propagandists start invoking the spirit of the Blitz to justify our increasingly eccentric approach.
Seriously out of pocket
A very interesting multi-signatory letter regarding the new Electricity Market Reforms appears in the Financial Times. This argues long-term contracts and tariffs should be offered for electricity demand reduction, and not just for electricity supply.
Otherwise, argue the signatories, there will be heavy resistance to ever increasing electricity prices, both from industry or householders. Witness the front page splash in the Daily Mail the day the White Paper was published, warning that average domestic fuel bills would double as a result of all these dreadful new power stations.
In essence, the signatories conclude the less fuel we consume, the less of a burden these power stations would be on people's pockets. The signatories include all the usual greenies and fuel poverty campaigners. Plus one Steve Holiday. And who is Mr Holliday? He happens to be the CEO of National Grid. Which also happens to be the company most seriously out of pocket as a result of all the grid changes which would be required by the micro-generators so heavily promoted by Electricity Market Reform. Somehow, I don't quite see Steve Holliday as an eco-warrior.
Evidence of a power struggle?
The government has just published an overarching National Energy Policy Statement. It contains the results of four Updated Energy and Emissions Projections (UEPs). In para 3.3.20 the Policy Statement states categorically these UEP scenarios all conclude electricity demand in 2025 will be at approximately the same levels as today.
However, turn the page to para 3.3.22. Now the UEPs conclusions suddenly seem to have disappeared. Now the Policy Statement argues, " we assume, as is prudent, that total electricity demand is unlikely to remain at approximately current levels". And so go on to justify spending £200bn on new power stations.
If the results of all these UEPs are so inconveniently low-key , why on earth was all reference to them not excised from the Policy Document? Or is this transparent evidence of the power struggle within the Department of Energy, between the builders and the conservers, suddenly revealing itself in public?