Sunday, 22 May 2011


Human society, has never been so energy dependent throughout all of human history as is it is now on energy. Electricity in one from or another helps to make our urban (and not so urban) communities run, think how many labour saving devices we have in our homes, or rather think what we have that's not electrically driven. Electricity helps to make a more equal society a distinct possibility, otherwise we are literally sat in the dark. Once in the dark, there is a risk that notions of fairness and quality go out the window, taking us somewhere quite unpleasant.

Our domestic (and business) energy prices can go up and down in the short-term, yet the long term trend is always (at least for hydro-carbons) going to be upwards, this is something that is unavoidable due to increasing demands for more energy, a growing population and the relative short term limit to the earth's hydro carbon fuel reserves. It's important to recall that in the 1950's people were actually told that in the future by the end of the 20th century energy would be too cheap to meter...oops!

In hindsight perhaps this was before so complicit idiots (in this case a Conservative Government) decided to purse a headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s and to throw our energy resources to this wolves, sorry the free market. In Norway, being no doubt of slightly sounder mind, they chose to sell their gas overseas (to the UK) and to pocket the profits, whilst massively investing in sustainable renewable energy sources (in Norway) which gives the Norwegians control of their own secure energy supplies.

In the UK, upon privatisation, there were 22 electricity companies and 19 gas companies, now we have six. Energy planning has by and large been left in the hands of the private sector, who have been far too focused on squeezing profits out of us to give any thoughts to the future. While other countries attempted to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK’s market driven approach has been proven to be entirely inadequate. France can store 122 days of gas and Germany 99. Yet the UK had as of April 2009 a gas storage capacity which would last only 15 days; the New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity.

One direct consequence of this was that the UK has to sell gas during the summer because they could not store it, leaving UK energy suppliers scrambling to purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter. Massive investment in gas storage facilities to hold gas imported from Qatar has taken place, but, with the best will in the world, that gas supply could hardly be described as secure as it sits in one of the more volatile and unstable regions of the planet. David Cameron can sell all the stun guns, cattle prods and baton rounds he likes to some of the most repressive regimes on the planet, but, over longer term he is not backing a winner (as recent events in the Middle East with the Arab spring clearly show).

Anyone with slightly more than half a brain (even the Con Dems) should actually be capable of plot this trend and be able to note the medium and long-term consequences of being dependent upon energy resources that you don't actually control and that are running out. Over reliance on an an increasingly self interested private sector, who's behaviour has been repeatedly flagged up as cartel like, has not helped to safely plan the energy future of these islands.

Self interest has been compounded by a real failure in basic strategic energy planning and made worse by the last New Labour government and the current Con Dem Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources, whilst doing its best to try and hide a whopping great subsidy for the much favoured (at least by the UK Government) Nuclear industry.

Being reliant on that nice Mr Putin's for our energy supplies is not the brightest of ideas, especially as having Russia's hand on our gas supplies can be a tad risky - just ask the Ukraine. Over the longer term, Russia will have potentially declining cash reserves and an economy that is heavily reliant on its trade in gas for export, as Europe grows more dependent on Russian gas then the risk of artificial shortages as a consequence of Mr Putin's (our his successors) geopolitical games will be something all of us in Europe can all do without.

In Scotland, the SNP government is actively driving Scottish energy policy, something that will benefit the Scottish people. Energy consultants and developers are busy mapping specific locations where water that flows down steep enough slopes and ravines to allow it to generate an increasingly precious resource: energy.The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is actively supporting and encouraging the development of hydro power schemes within the park's boundaries and local communities are also planning to build their own local schemes (something that will deliver sustainable cheap energy and other financial benefits as well).

One of the reasons why the hydro rush will work in Scotland (and could work here in Wales) and should deliver long term sustainable benefits is the new feed-in tariff that came in 2010. The subsidy for producing green energy has been increased and it makes schemes more viable, which when combined with a progressive Government that is actively driving the growth of sustainable non oil and gas and non nuclear dependent energy supplies'- means that plans to develop sustainable renewable energy supplies are proceeding apace.

The question is will Labour in Wales step up to the plate and grasp the opportunity to drive and develop energy policy in Wales?

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