Energy Prices – Costing the Earth

If you didn’t listen to ‘Costing the Earth’ on Tues or Weds 15th/16th Oct, please click the link now. In ‘Mind the Gap’, Tom Heap explores the ‘trilemma’ of energy supply – de-carbonization, security of supply, and affordability. It makes sobering, indeed worrying listening.

Tom Heap says (per BBC iplayer):

“Our energy needs are growing as our energy supply dwindles. Renewables have not come online quickly enough and we are increasingly reliant on expensive imported gas or cheap but dirty coal. Last year the UK burnt 50% more coal than in previous years but this helped reverse years of steadily declining carbon dioxide emissions. By 2015 6 coal fired power stations will close and the cost of burning coal will increase hugely due to the introduction of the carbon price floor. Shale gas and biomass have been suggested as quick and easy solutions but are they really sustainable, or cheap? Carbon Capture and Storage could make coal or gas cleaner and a new study suggests that with CCS bio energy could even decrease global warming. Yet CCS has stalled in the UK and the rest of Europe and the debate about the green credentials of biomass is intensifying.”

Affordability is what is currently hitting the headlines. Ed Milband appears oblivious to the other two ‘horns’ of the trilemma, Ed Davey (Energy Secretary) thinks gas and nuclear will get us through, and now we have the 10% price rises by the ‘big six’. Tom Heap compares the situation with the unpreparedness in 1940, when not enough spitfires had been built.

The most intriguing reference in Tom Heap’s presentation is to the Department of Energy and Climate Change website on the 2050 calculator. This is another ’must click’. It is a government publication, so one might be wary about whether some of its assumptions have a pre-determined agenda in mind, but it does reveal the scale of the problem, and it does make for a serious debate. Tom Heap points out that Friends of the Earth have already used the calculator to make their own recommendations. My own take on cutting a long, complex and crucial debate short is as follows.

Energy supplies are unsuited to private enterprise. Any entrepreneur must aim to increase business, or lose in competition. It must be possible to devise ways in which private input is possible, but not determining the price structure. Energy use must be discouraged. It must cost least for the first units used, and progressively more as use increases. The Citizens’ Basic Income will deal with the main social justice implication of this. What about everybody stuck in poorly insulated homes, and high energy use industries? Answers will have to be found, but the question will seem odd to anyone who has listened to ‘Mind the Gap’. If the problem of security of supply is not solved, vulnerable groups are in trouble anyway. My blog on fracking (4th October) stresses the urgency of de-carbonization.

Of course somebody is going to have to pay, and this will be true whether the crisis (in 2015/16 according to Tom Heap) is forestalled or not. The energy companies are right in that investment is vital. But they have to pay shareholders – another reason why energy should not be in private hands. But should it be taxpayers or users who foot the bill? High and rising unit prices, in tandem with an adequate component in the Citizens’ Income (paid for by taxation) will be the basis of the most satisfactory answer, though a switch from income taxes to taxes on resources and pollution would be a further step in the right direction. I am indebted to Alison Marshall for the last suggestion, and also the following: The Green Party need not become government to achieve this reform. A successful promotion of this policy, so that it is taken up by other parties, would be very worthwhile. When I helped to found the Green Party, what I envisaged was an entity which could state policies necessary to achieve sustainability, regardless of short term popularity. If enough people do not support the foregoing logic now, we shall have to go through the energy crisis anyway. Caroline, Natalie and Jenny, please start  using the Citizens’ Income.

2 responses to “Energy Prices – Costing the Earth

  1. The expert on the Costing the Earth program seemed to think that carbon capture and storage is the way to go. The problem is funding not technology. A green tax switch from income taxes to taxes on resources and pollution would put prices in the right perspective. And as you say, the citizens income could be used to make green taxes progressive.

    The Green Party need not become government to achieve this reform. A successful promotion of this policy, so that it is taken up by other parties, would be very worthwhile.

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