A growing economy means higher energy demand. A basic duty of government is to ensure abundant energy for its citizens and industry at the lowest possible price, but this seems lost on energy planners and ministers, who are now proposing rationing to avoid power cuts. Adherence to draconian EU directives on emissions and renewables, alongside a high carbon price floor, are causing the UK to shut valuable, reliable coal power plants long before necessary, and without a replacement plant ready. British power plants will soon pay £18 for every tonne of CO2 they emit, while those in the EU pay just £6. It is clear why new investment is not economic for the generators. In January, David Cameron said he had stared National Grid in the eyes, asked if there was any serious threat to the UK’s energy supplies, and was reassured by their response. Perhaps he needs to ask them again, and again? Tony Lodge is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and author of The atomic clock: How the coalition is gambling with Britain’s energy policy.
Thanks to the government’s actions, we are turning round a legacy of underinvestment and neglect. These measures are entirely voluntary. Nobody will get cut off; economic activity will not be curtailed. This is about rewarding volunteer businesses with the flexibility to reduce their electricity use – only at peak times and only if called upon. Demand-side reduction is not new to the UK. Our choice matches that in many countries – new technology means we don’t have to build power stations that stand idle. Both the Confederation of British Industry and British Chambers of Commerce say this is a sensible approach. This is part of a bigger picture that has seen over £45bn of investment in electricity since 2010, renewables investment last year at record levels, and terms agreed for the first nuclear power station in a generation. Together, these measures will help Britain to retain its position as the most secure country in the EU for energy and fourth best in the world. Ed Davey is secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change.