News & Analysis

Tories put profit before climate

01 May 2022

By Rebecca Anderson

The Energy Security Strategy, launched in early April, was met with widespread criticism from climate scientists and opposition parties.

From the expansion of North Sea oil drilling to rejection of home insulation schemes, it is not a climate strategy but a plan for UK energy production for profit. The Strategy opts for long term, expensive and privatised infrastructure projects over solutions that will help with rising energy bills.

The Strategy projects that the UK will use 100GW of wind and solar power per year by 2050. To meet this demand with low-carbon energy, it aims to increase the proportion of electricity provided by offshore windfarms, solar and nuclear. To address demand for gas and oil, it aims to increase hydrogen energy production and the use of heat pumps instead of gas boilers, on top of North Sea oil and reconsidering the moratorium on fracking.

The expansion of North Sea oil means issuing new licenses, brought forward to the summer. In the face of criticism, the government has argued that locally drilled fossil fuels have a lower carbon footprint than imported oil and gas, as though concerns about climate change in any way factored in their decision.
Nor is this decision about lowering energy costs for struggling households – the extracted fuel will be sold on the international market. Instead, they are keen to cash in on today’s high energy costs by selling licences to the highest bidders.

There has been a moratorium on fracking since 2019 and the last two wells were due to be sealed until the government reconsidered this damaging and unpopular practice. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has commissioned the British Geological Survey to ‘advise on the latest scientific evidence around shale gas extraction’. Tory extremist Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the decision, downplaying earthquakes caused by fracking and arguing that ‘every last drop’ of oil should be extracted.

Though the Strategy aims for 95% of UK energy to be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050, the routes chosen are the slowest and raise serious doubts about whether even this inadequate target will be met. Rather than expand onshore wind farms, a policy with 80% approval, the government is so concerned about opposition from rural Tory voters that they opt instead for the slower and more expensive option of offshore turbines. Professor Grobb of UCL described the decision as the ‘most stunning and cowardly failure in the Strategy’.

Another main focus is nuclear power, which the Strategy assumes will provide 25% of the country’s electricity by 2050. However, nuclear energy is not renewable, is more expensive, and loads huge environmental costs in construction, storage of waste and decommissioning.

The major omission is insulation. The government is unwilling to support households in reducing their energy consumption and therefore their bills and climate footprint. In 2013, they closed a scheme which helped households install insulation; that year saw a 92% drop in installations. There are 19 million homes still without insulation, but only 700,000 households are expected to upgrade their insulation by 2025. The Strategy fails to say how even this minimal target will be achieved.

Similarly, the scheme offers little in terms of solar energy. VAT on solar panels for domestic and commercial buildings is set at zero for the next five years but no government assistance is offered to help with the cost.

The government’s Strategy pushes the reduction of carbon emissions further and further back to the 2050 deadline. Not only are nuclear and offshore facilities unlikely to bring about any carbon reduction in the next decade, but in the meantime carbon emissions will increase as a result of increased fossil fuel extraction.

A real strategy, aimed at quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, would rapidly expand onshore wind farms, alongside investment in hydrogen and solar technologies. Rather than contracting private companies to build new infrastructure and skim profit off the top, the government would undertake these projects itself.

The National Grid should be nationalised and invested in. Currently 3.3% of our energy bills go towards paying for the grid; yet the National Grid paid £1.9bn in dividends last year and is expecting bumper profits this year.

Household insulation must be provided quickly and for free, alongside the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps and hydrogen boilers. The global rise in energy prices can be offset by insulation and a price cap on energy funded by a wealth tax on the billionaires.

Plans to expand North Sea drilling should be scrapped, existing licenses revoked, and operations nationalised without compensation. A nationalised energy system, along with the big banks and critical industries, is key to organising a democratically planned economy designed to meet the needs of people and planet.

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