ALEX BRUMMER: No wonder Rishi Sunak is on red alert for Boris Johnson’s new green nirvana
Amid mounting apprehension about the terrifying cost of hitting the Government’s net zero carbon target and replacing our gas boilers with eco-friendly heat pumps, Boris Johnson is doing his utmost to reassure us.
In typically florid language, the Prime Minister insists that ‘the Boiler Police are not going to kick your door in with their sandal-clad feet and seize – at carrot point – your trusty old combi’.
Yet he is undoubtedly on a mission ahead of next week’s Cop26 summit – and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s attempt to inject an air of economic reality into the hugely ambitious climate change programme is hitting an immovable force. Sound financial sense is being swept aside.
In his rush to decarbonise, Johnson appears to be unmoved by the essential needs of manufacturing and households for secure energy supplies. Wilfully ignored is the fact that much of the technology and infrastructure required for a carbon-free Britain isn’t up to the job, is untested or has yet to be developed.
Amid mounting apprehension about the terrifying cost of hitting the Government’s net zero carbon target and replacing our gas boilers with eco-friendly heat pumps, Boris Johnson is doing his utmost to reassure us. Pictured: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss, visit GKN Aerospace in Bristol
What is more, at a time when global markets for energy sources such as gas and oil are in turmoil, a Treasury study has revealed, incredibly, that the investment required to decarbonise Britain has never fully been costed.
Little wonder Rishi Sunak is so fearful. The Treasury warns bluntly that Britain’s race to net zero ahead of rival countries could make us increasingly uncompetitive.
And however Bunterish Boris Johnson might be, costs will increase because of the Government’s eco-policies – a fact missing from the script yesterday as he sought to whip up excitement among potential investors at a global summit in London.
The Prime Minister admitted this week that ‘the UK is deciding to make a big bet on green technology’. But the gamble is in danger of going horribly wrong.
In all manner of areas, red warning lights are flashing. Take the plan to ban all new gas boilers by 2035. Householders are offered grants of £5,000 each over the next three years to rip out gas boilers and install heat pumps.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s attempt to inject an air of economic reality into the hugely ambitious climate change programme is hitting an immovable force
Yet not only is this sum a fraction of the cost which is nearer £20,000, the total grant money covers just 90,000 of Britain’s 25million households – and heat pumps don’t work in many homes anyway.
Likewise, by banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, the UK will need more than ten times the 25,000 existing charging points according to the Competition and Markets Authority.
It is an extraordinary, difficult and ambitious target to meet. And, in the meantime, battery range is a genuine problem for vast numbers of drivers while the Treasury faces a £40billion black hole from the loss of vehicle tax once we are finally all electric.
Of course the world needs to change to counter global warming, and Rishi Sunak is fully aware of the fact. Nor is it true that he lacks the ability to back bold, visionary ideas – he is behind the freeport development on Teesside, for instance, where international businesses will be encouraged to invest through tax breaks.
But the Chancellor recognises only too well that reaching the green nirvana imagined by Johnson at such breakneck speed could have terrible consequences. For the journey risks being interrupted by power blackouts, the elderly freezing in their homes and budgetary mayhem.
This rush towards decarbonising Britain could not come at a worse moment given current global circumstances. Since May, the price of traditional energy resources has soared by 95 per cent.
Britain has come so close to running out of power that the National Grid – responsible for making sure the nation has adequate energy – invited the biggest electricity supplier EDF to switch back on its coal generator at West Burton in Nottinghamshire where it is almost certainly burning German or Russian-imported coal.
Elsewhere in the world the US, which has abundant oil and gas resources and reserves, has seen petrol prices surge to $3 (£2.18) an American gallon – the highest level for several years.
Blackouts have hit the two biggest emerging market nations, India and China, while much of continental Europe has been reminded sharply how dependent it is on remaining friends with Vladimir Putin in order to keep Russian exports of natural gas to the continent flowing.
Normally, as the northern hemisphere heads into winter, oil, gas and coal stocks are at record levels. But this year, they have fallen way below where they should be, while coal stocks in India and China – huge consumers of the black stuff – are also right down.
Compared to so many other countries, Britain is doubly disadvantaged by its headlong rush to decarbonise. The UK floats on a sea of undeveloped fossil fuel resources, from clean coal in Cumbria to the Jackdaw oil and gas field more than 150 miles east of Aberdeen, and huge shale gas reserves around Blackpool.
But, as we relentlessly pursue the target of a carbon-free Britain by 2050, these resources are firmly locked up even though the country has virtually no natural gas storage capacity.
In seeking to claim the ethical high ground, the UK is placing its whole economy at risk while our competitors adopt a much more realistic approach.
By banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, the UK will need more than ten times the 25,000 existing charging points, according to the Competition and Markets Authority
To take one example, in this country less than 2 per cent of our energy was sourced from coal last year. Compare that with Germany where the figure was nearer 25 per cent.
It’s true that President Joe Biden is adopting bolder carbon emission standards. But, from the coalfields of West Virginia to fracking operations in West Texas, fossil fuels are still the main driving force of American power production.
As inspiring as it may be that, when the wind blows, more than 50 per cent of Britain’s energy is now provided by offshore windfarms, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this places us at the forefront of this technology.
Many of the pylons are fabricated in China and some of the more sophisticated technologies provided by Denmark. We are still waiting for the UK’s manufacturing revolution for clean energy to emerge. And we are already well behind on car-battery factories – Germany has six or so under construction against one gigaplant in the UK.
There was great excitement when British industrial giant Ineos, founded and run by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, announced he was getting full-square behind the hydrogen-fuel revolution, believing it to be the power source of the future for heavy trucks and perhaps locomotives.
The only problem is that he has chosen to build the first multi-billion hydrogen plants in Germany, Norway and Belgium rather than the UK.
While garage forecourts in London and other big cities are seeking to address the switch to electrified vehicles by removing traditional fuel pumps and replacing them with charging stations, this is leading to its own short-term problem.
With each petrol pump removed, petrol and diesel storage capacity is also diminished – and we saw recently what happens when we don’t have enough fuel available at petrol stations.
recently, my own household experienced an example of how ill-thought-out green policies cause economic harm. The repair firm which has kept our German-built washer and dryer running for 14 years arrived for a regular service call.
The engineer advised us to buy new machines, saying his firm would no longer be able to operate in London because its diesel vehicles and the new £12.50 low-emissions charging zone made it financially unworkable.
The mission to decarbonise Britain and place climate change at the heart of the nation’s agenda is certainly a noble cause. But Boris Johnson has to balance his thinking with realpolitik.
Other advanced nations want to decarbonise too but recognise that, during the transformation, it is critical to ensure that there is no interruption to supplies which would harm economic security.
Sunak and the Treasury are absolutely right to draw attention to the potential costs of pursuing the Prime Minister’s green agenda. The transition to mass market eco-technologies is fantastically complicated and many of the proposed solutions are far from ready.
In rushing the fences, Britain is in danger of recklessly compromising this country’s growth and financial stability.
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