The present calamity is part of a wider picture arising directly out of the 'privatisation of electricity' and the way in which this was structured. Privatisation was put together in a hurry and contained within the Act many distortions and ambiguities. It is a real tragedy for Britain that under this legislation many foolishnesses have been pursued, often in direct contradiction to the UK national
The ground rules gave the distribution companies the right to generate some part of their requirement themselves. Naturally they chose this route, in order to increase their independence from the 'big boy' generating companies. They chose gas because this was the quick, easy and, almost, economic route to take. The fact that their gas-fired stations give marginally more expensive electricity was of no great consequence to them.
But what about the broader national interest? What about the modern coal power stations which are part of the national infrastructure, and, indeed, which we, the taxpayer, paid for? These will be under-used and closed down early. What about the gas network, a vast and valuable national asset, which again we paid for and which will run out of British natural gas much sooner because of the mad dash for gas for electricity generation? Not least, there is the loss of the mines and of the mine workers, again invaluable assets that are being thrown away.
At the same time the electricity industry itself is being decimated. The old Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was a thoughtful and far-sighted organisation that looked and planned far into the future with technologies such as wind, wave and nuclear power. These will surely produce (with coal) our electricity in the longer term when the short-lived gas supplies have run out. Much of this long-term thinking and research has also been thrown away. Two outstanding CEGB laboratories - Marchwood and Leatherhead - have been shut down. All in all, many lives ruined and much talent and vigour wasted.
And all for what?
Not for cheaper electricity - be assured. Not for the creation of more jobs - quite the contrary. Not for some long-term energy strategy - this doesn't exist. For nothing other than a piece of mindless dogma. But when the gas prices go up, as soon they must, who then will pay the bill to rebuild the infrastructure that has been thrown away?
NORMAN H. LIPMAN
The writer is past head of the Science and Engineering Research Council's Energy Research Unit and Vice-President of the European Wind Energy Association.Reuse content