EU Referendum

Energy: pointing the finger


One undisputed power which falls to incumbent prime ministers is the ability – barring tumultuous events outside their control – to set the media agenda. Thus we have the fool Johnson yesterday, raiding the dressing-up box yet again, this time to announce a "drug policy" which, by all accounts, is much the same as every other failed drug policy.

The great privilege of blogging, on the other hand, is that we can ignore the set agendas and focus on issues which are less fully covered but in some respects of more lasting impact than the crise du jour.

With that in mind, I was entertained yesterday by the report that a 1.3GW coal-fired power plant is under construction at the former Yokosuka thermal power station site near the port of Kurihama, in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

Even more entertaining was the additional news that Yokosuka is one of the 22 new coal-fired power plants planned to be built in Japan by 2025, a plan that has the BBC squealing with anguish that Japan is increasing its coal consumption "at a time of great concern about coal's impact on the climate".

The reasons for this development, of course, are obvious. Since the run-down of the indigenous nuclear programme, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant closure, Japan has been finding that reliance on gas-fired power stations is too expensive and the supplies uncertain. Hence the Japanese government has decided on a massive expansion of the coal-fired generation fleet, powered by cheap coal imported from Australia.

Interestingly – some might say tragically – we were in much the same position a decade or more ago, in 2009 when I picked up in the EU Referendum blog a letter in the Telegraph written by energy expert Tony Lodge.

Since 1997, he noted, the government had approved over 30 gigawatts of electricity generation from gas-fired power stations, with gas on 2009 generating over 43 percent of UK electricity. No other conventional power plants, such as clean coal or nuclear, had been approved in the period to boost energy diversity and get prices down.

Thus, wrote Lodge, a present 90 percent of current and proposed power station construction in Britain is gas-fired. By 2020, he added, 60 percent or more of our electricity will come from gas, 80 percent of which will be imported by pipeline or LNG ship. Gas prices are tied to oil prices and, though low now, will rise again and remain volatile. With that, he warned, "all our energy eggs are in one basket".

None of us at the time appreciated the extent to which successive governments would pursue the development of renewables – in particular wind and solar – rigging the market to make it appear that this generation was economically viable. Lodge actually called for the approval of a new supercritical coal plant, proposed at Kingsnorth in Kent, in order to reduce our reliance on gas.

However, after the intervention of Greenpeace, and the acquittal of its activists, the project was abandoned in late 2009 - the last attempt in the UK to build a new coal-fired power station. And, although Lodge got some of the detail wrong, we are nonetheless now in the position where we are over-reliant on gas, with prices rising precipitately.

The Japanese action, therefore, provides a remarkable contrast, as between a government which has the interests of its people and economy at hears, and our virtue-signalling fools who are in charge of our energy policy.

And, in the refusal to address the needs of the country, it seems that the UK government is very much on its own. Already, we're familiar with the stance of India, which dispatched 291.72 million tonnes during April-October 2021.

Now we learn that the government has ordered the state-owned Coal India Limited to ramp up coal production to one billion tonnes by 2023-2024, up from 828.5 million tonnes this financial year.

Similarly, China is ramping up production and also expects to hit peak levels by 2024, reaching at 2.48 billion tonnes of standard coal equivalent – although coal-fired electricity is not expected to peak until 2028.

In Russia, coal is still king and, as this report indicates, the government wants still more. It has called for increased annual production to reach a minimum of 485 million tons by 2035, up from 441 million tons in 2019. Optimistically, the government says, production will hit as much as 668 million tons in that period.

Even in Biden's United States, which has committed to decarbonising the power grid by 2035, coal is making a comeback as high natural gas prices limit its use in electricity generation.

Annual US coal-fired electricity generation is set to rise this year for the first time since 2014, and the share of coal in America's power generation mix is set to rise to 23 percent in 2021 from 20 percent in 2020 as electricity demand rebounds and the delivered natural gas price for electricity generators more than doubles.

But it isn't only the giants who are turning to coal for salvation. Ukraine, under the military cosh from its Russian neighbour, is also being deprived of exports from the Federation. Stepping into the breach is the United States: the second of seven ships with 66,000 tonnes of American coal has just arrived in Ukraine. Some 470,000 tonnes is expected by the end of January 2022.

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan is also suffering an energy crisis and it too is relying on coal, to the extent that it is supplying subsidised coal for home heating after a shortfall of hydroelectric power, following a drought across the region.

For all the rhetoric at Cop26, when it comes to a choice of meeting international targets and keeping the lights on – to say nothing of keeping warm – self-interest invariably prevails. And, for the moment, that is an extremely sensible stance. While the warmists continue to wibble about the "climate emergency", the real world is intruding to confound the modellers' predictions.

Latest of the poster children to fall is Greenland, where it is reported that the ice melt, which has slowed significantly during the past decade, has swung to one of growth. Satellite measurements showed a gain last Sunday of 9 Gigatonnes of slow and ice, amongst the largest daily accumulations ever seen on the ice sheet.

But even while Johnson dresses up and blathers about whatever it is that takes his fancy, the destruction of the UK's energy resources goes on. Within three years, what is left of the legacy coal generation fleet – on which we are currently reliant to keep the grid from falling over – will have been taken out of service, while there is still no in-service date for Hinkley Point C.

As some residents in the Northeast and Scotland have been finding after six or more days without electricity, normal life pretty much stops once the power goes off. In the greater scheme of things, there are very few things more important than the security of our electricity supply.

Regardless of the political and media agendas of the day, therefore, we'll continue to do our own thing. As least if we are descending into darkness, we should know why, and where to point the finger when it happens.

Also published on Turbulent Times.