Yet again Europe is in turmoil, how short their memories giving Russia the opportunity to expand their influence. At the heart of these woes, we have an insane energy policy legacy promoted by Angela Merkel leaving many dead and many others displaced in Ukraine and a country ravaged by the despotic Vladimir Putin. These events have revealed the true, arrogant, and naïve nature of the EU. Where would the UK be if still a member? Remember 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea, mainland EU was so shackled to Russia by the lunatic dependency for most of its energy needs the UK could not act to stop him. Even then Europe did not learn the fundamental truths of energy strategy – never depend on a pariah State for anything.
Prior to Tony Blair becoming prime minister of the UK the UK was energy independent. The UK had nuclear, coal, and gas & oil from the North Sea. But energy infrastructure needed upgrade as existing generating capacity was approaching the end of its useful life. Blair preferred to spend money on social projects to boost his populism. Many citizens recently expressed their resentment at Blair receiving a knighthood because he blindly followed George W Bush into Iraq. History will show that his domestic crimes were far more serious, impacting people for generations to come. Not least of his crimes he degraded the educational system in the UK labelling Colleges of Further Education and Technical Colleges as universities encouraging some 50% of students leaving secondary schools (whereas only some 24% are needed) to attend university for nebulous degrees that would not attract employment and burdening these students with onerous debts that shackled them from starting their lives on the property ladder. He also pandered to the people promising them cradle to grave financial security as an entitlement without any incentive to work leaving the Treasury bare when the Conservatives first took power even after selling half of the gold reserves and lucrative telecoms licences. But even worse he blindly followed Merkel into the Lisbon Treaty and her energy policy of not only continuing the Nord Stream project set up by her predecessor Gerhard Schröder (now Chairman of Gazprom) to provide gas from Russia to Germany but then starting a second pipeline Nord Stream 2 which the USA condemned as strategic lunacy. I wonder what reward she has been promised by Putin for surrendering the EU to his mercy.
Having engaged with Putin when he was a KGB officer my profile would be small man, big ego, and desperately in need of a legacy. He has brutally suppressed any opposition to his dreams of fame, brain-washed the public to suit his ambitions, and will not stop at the savage slaughter of innocent people in the pursuit of his legacy. However, it should be now clear to him that history will record his legacy as infamy in the ranks of Hitler and Stalin. But his ambitions were obvious years ago so why did the West, especially Germany and the EU foster his narrative? I must admit that in January I thought Putin was posturing for international recognition for the annexation of the Crimea into Russia as his legacy. I have yet to understand what caused him to flip into war with Ukraine as it is clear this mission was not well planned as can be seen by the losses to the Russian armed forces.
The UK had its hands tied as a member of the EU in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea even though voices were loud and clear of what was to come should this annexation be allowed. But, just as today, Germany is so dependent on gas and oil from Russia they cannot risk offending Putin lest he closes the pipelines. The Germans today demonstrate their fear of reprisals with their limp offers of help to Ukraine. For the third time in 100 years the UK is leading the charge to bail out Europe because of the failure of Germany. I hope the EU member States crush the influence of the German elite in the EU going forward or, better still, collapse this il conceived union which many member States have paid dearly to support the incompetence of the likes of Merkel.
When Switzerland announced it would follow Germany in ending nuclear power as part of its energy mix, I explained to a Swiss Federal Councillor the lunacy of sacrificing its energy sufficiency which would result in consumer energy prices doubling in just two years. Thankfully they reversed this policy. Today my projection on pricing is more than validated.
What confounds me is why Merkel originated Nord Stream 2 when a far cheaper, more strategically astute solution was available. In 1998 I was engaged to structure the financing of the development and production of onshore oil & gas reserves in Azerbaijan for which I needed a credible long-term offtake agreement having previously structured the first international public financing of oil & gas development and production for Russia and thus understood the risks involved. My proposed strategy was to pipeline the gas to Constanta in Romania, and then continue the pipeline under the River Danube all the way into Central Europe. Easy, out of sight, and significantly cheaper. Dual sourcing is always far superior to all eggs in one unreliable basket. Now the Chinese have control over the Azerbaijan gas.
I hope the Green lobby, especially in Germany, learn from the spilt blood of the Ukrainian people that mankind does not have the illusionary attributes of King Canute. Climate change is a fact of life on this planet. Every time some young activist with little or no understanding of the world approaches me to insist I take climate change seriously I ask them to answer one question. ‘If we were standing having this conversation on this spot some 10,000 years ago, we would be standing on some 10m of ice. Where did it go? In our more recent 4,000-year history how many ancient cities are now under the sea?’ As the industrial revolution is less than 250-years old this question always ends the conversation. Whereas I have strong views on pollution, especially in our incredible oceans, I have heard no reasonable argument to suggest that man adds much to climate change. For example, the moon is likely to have more impact on our climate over the coming 6-years than mankind as it wobbles its way to its new orbit. And, as for methane emissions, do these activists understand anything about the Bermuda triangle, or the structure of the world’s continental shelves? Full of methane just waiting to escape into the atmosphere in vast quantities as witnessed before the cameras in the BP accident in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. Carbon digestors exist today but who will pay? The solution to particulates in diesel existed in 1994, and thus Governments pushing the switch to diesel engines, but the solution would force Governments to reduce duty on diesel because of the higher cost to produce. Instead of 0% sulphur content (the source of particulates when burnt) politicians throughout the EU settled for 5% sulphur. Let not a little pollution get in the way of tax revenues. Electric cars is another diesel catastrophe if only the people will open their eyes, and stop listening to so-called ‘experts’ – the most degraded word in the English language in the past 30 years. As has been proven during the Covid pandemic scientists should never be allowed to drive policy – but neither should inexperienced politicians with little or no understanding of the real world. In any event, money and greed is by far the largest polluter on this planet.
You might ask why I have yet to criticise the UK Conservative Government. The UK could, and should be energy self-sufficient. An astute Government would also ensure that the UK is not subject to market pricing for home-grown production as in the USA. However, David Cameron dithered over replacement of our base load generation. Teresa May sold the UK down the river to the EU and added insult by creating law to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050.
Boris Johnson has forgotten Conservative values and cowered to the green agenda leaving our base load requirements in jeopardy and listening to lunatic activists regard oil, gas, and coal. However, a Labour Government would fare worse.
I hope this current energy crisis is a total wake-up call to the current UK Government that 2050 carbo neutral is only an aim, all other energy requirements being a priority. The UK must activate all North Sea assets, ensure control over pricing within the UK for new fields with priority supply to the UK, start fracking immediately to cover the short-term gas needs, re-activate any moth-balled generators needed including coal, and mine any required coal, i.e. return to energy self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. How many people know that the UK has substantial gas storage facilities, some owned by Centrica and the other by EdF. From what I can glean the Government would not support Centrica in the maintenance of these strategic reserves, and EdF emptied their vast facilities because of possible fracking in the region. Thus all of the UK’s strategic gas capacity was empty in December. I also understand that the UK is now supplying gas to the EU to keep them afloat.
The Green levy and VAT on energy bills should be immediately rescinded. The UK Government needs to accept that they cannot blame the inflation in the economy on commercial pressures – current inflation is almost totally inflicted by Government incompetence, with a nominal amount due to the Covid pandemic, but again much incompetence on the part of the Government regarding lockdowns. The nuclear reactors developed by Rolls Royce should be quickly installed whilst larger facilities are built. Rather than tax the energy companies regarding their enormous windfall profits from consumers encourage them to sell their energy to the UK network at a cost over production for UK sourced energy assets.
As a footnote I listened to a conversation last evening on GBNews between Nigel Farage and Dale Vincent, founder of Ecotricity. Dale’s rose-tinted spectacles sees a UK using only renewables for all its needs as the sun will always shine and the wind will always blow. And he proclaims this will be the cheapest solution. If this is true, why the onerous green levy on current energy bills? And, by the way, peaks in electricity demand will be controlled by removing civil liberties from the people penalising them for collectively putting on the kettle at half time during the Cup Final. Thankfully Nigel told him on air that he didn’t believe a word of it. We are doomed if the energy policy makers listen to such fantasy.
When all costs are taken into consideration wind turbines are not cheap, nor are they eco-friendly not least because the turbine blades require replacement every 2-3 years and are not recyclable. What do the eco-warriors suggest we do with them?
Renewables are a tertiary source of power generation and will only become a secondary source when there is a commercially viable battery storage capability which will certainly increase the total consumer price above gas or nuclear. Just as with EV cars once the battery is depleted it is useless until recharged. As a former nuclear scientist, I see no identifiable renewable that can generate 24/7 base load. The wind turbine I can see from my study window was turned off over the Christmas period for 2 days because the wind was too strong and gusty – these turbines have a limited operating window for wind speeds.
If we switch to thorium reactors (invented in the UK – see earlier blog) which are about a third the price and build time of uranium reactors we have a secure, safe source of 24/7 base load with no nasty decaying legacy – truly clean energy at an affordable price below renewables.