Richard North, 29/03/2015  

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One reason why this election campaign seems so trivial and unreal, writes Booker, is the number of important national issues that will scarcely be mentioned. Several of these, he says, he will cover in the weeks ahead. But high on the list is our reckless and dangerous national energy policy. Last week, scarcely noticed south of the border, came the news of the premature closure of Britain's second largest power station.

The giant Longannet plant in Fife, with its 2,400-megawatt capacity, can still supply two thirds of all Scotland's average electricity needs.

The reasons given for Longannet's closure early next year were partly the crippling cost of the Government's "carbon" taxes and the additional £40 million it is being charged for connection to the grid. But the immediate trigger for the decision was Longannet’s failure to win a contract to supply back-up for Scotland’s ever-rising number of wind farms at times when there is insufficient wind.

Even Scotland’s energy minister, Fergus Ewing, called the closure of Longannet "a national scandal", laying the blame squarely on "Westminster"” – which is curious considering that his government's policy is that by 2020 Scotland should produce 100 per cent of its electricity from "renewables". (In other words, that it should be able to rely on unsubsidised back-up from fossil fuel plants in England when there is too little wind, while selling heavily subsidised wind power back to England when there is too much.)

But Longannet's real crime is that the 4.5 million tons of coal it burns each year make it the biggest CO2 emitter in Scotland. Which is also, of course, why we will hear nothing about Britain's energy future in this election: because all the major parties are signed up to the policy set in train by Ed Miliband's Climate Change Act committing us to reduce our "carbon" emissions by 80 per cent within 35 years.

The policy on which they are all agreed, set out in the Coalition's "2050 Pathways for tackling climate change", centres on three main steps, each more bizarre than the last. Step one is that we should "decarbonise" our economy, not just by closing down the coal and gas-fired power stations that supply more than 70 per cent of our electricity, but by chucking out all those gas appliances 90 per cent of us use for cooking and heating.

Step two is that we should double our production of electricity, which we would then use, not just for cooking and heating but also for virtually all our transport (electric cars, trains etc). Step three is that all this electricity should be generated from "zero carbon" sources, mainly from thousands more wind turbines and a fleet of new nuclear power stations.

The only problem is that none of this insane make-believe can possibly come about. When the wind doesn't blow, the only power to keep our lights on, our homes heated and our electric cars running would be that from those supposed new nuclear power stations.

At the present rate, with only one new nuclear power plant dubiously in view by 2024, producing electricity four times as expensive as that from coal, not even tens of thousands of diesel generators could produce enough back-up power to keep our computer-dependent economy functioning at all. (Last Tuesday evening, wind was producing less than one per cent of the power we were using).

But not a word of this will we hear in the election campaign: partly because all our main political parties have signed up to it, but even more because virtually none of our politicians have the slightest clue what it is they are signed up to.

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