You wouldn’t know it by the behaviour of successive governments, but the question of how to deliver a reliable energy supply is quite a pressing one. Old gas plants have been mothballed, several nuclear power stations have come to the end of their lives, new proposals have been bogged down in red tape and green protests, and earlier this year Ofgem warned that by 2015 we might be reduced to running with only 2 per cent of spare capacity in the system.
So it’s good news that the Government and EDF are reportedly nearing a deal to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. There have been plenty of tussles over the strike price – the amount the company will be paid per Megawatt hour – but both sides are increasingly confident that they are close to reaching an agreement. If they do, then the Coalition deserves credit for dealing with an issue which Labour simply dodged for 13 years.
However, Hinkley Point is one site – and if it does go ahead then its twin reactors won’t be operational until 2020 and 2024, respectively. To deliver the reliable and affordable energy the population and economy of the UK needs will require swift progress on all fronts – we can’t afford to see a continuation of the sluggish progress Britain has historically made.
This is why it’s interesting to see Michael Fallon firing warning shots at some of his Parliamentary colleagues in The Sun today. Tory MPs who are trying to delay shale gas exploration in their constituencies are, he said, are being “picky” and “irresponsible”.
He is right. Not only is this too important an issue to fudge and dither, but it would be politically foolish to do so.
For a start, any suggestion that we should frack in the North and not in the Home Counties must be rejected as unjust – the damage such selfish ideas do to our already battered reputation outside the South of England is vast.
Then there is the wider political message. Labour have adopted an anti-business agenda. The Lib Dems have tried their damnedest to prevent the potential shale boom from going ahead and are now trying to build an alliance in Whitehall to insist green regulations aren’t cut back. The Conservatives have an opportunity to be decisively pro-growth, and we must grasp it with both hands.