In the next decade, a quarter of Britain's power supply will be switched off for good. This week MPs will vote on the Government's Energy Bill, which will determine what we replace it with. To tackle soaring energy bills, improve energy security and stop dangerous climate change, we must decarbonise the power sector by 2030.
For all the anti-renewables scare stories, investment in clean energy only accounts for a small fraction of consumers' bills. The biggest driver of soaring energy bills is rising global gas prices, predicted to increase even further, just when the cost of clean energy, such as solar panels and wind turbines, should fall. Breaking Britain's dependence on fossil fuels, cleaning up our power supply and investing in energy efficiency would lead to lower, not higher, bills.
As reserves in the North Sea have depleted, after decades of exporting energy Britain now relies on imports, leaving our energy security in the hands of other countries. If it can be extracted safely and sustainably, shale gas may help. But no one knows how much is recoverable or at what cost. New nuclear power will help create a more balanced, secure and low-carbon energy mix, too. But the best way of improving our energy security is to take advantage of the natural energy sources within our own country. This is the windiest country in Europe, and Britain really can rule the waves. But businesses will only invest in converting the sun, wind and waves into energy if they see the Government back decarbonisation.
We know that carbon dioxide is the principal man-made greenhouse gas responsible for the planet's rising temperature. In May, for the first time in history, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the 400 parts per million threshold. Unless we reduce this figure, we face chaotic weather, rising sea levels, flooded homes, failing harvests and drought. If we can't decarbonise the power sector, we can't reduce the country's carbon footprint.
With the economy flat-lining, unemployment rising and living standards squeezed, climate change might not be everyone's top concern. But decarbonising power would yield huge economic benefits. New industries. New companies. New jobs. But as today's figures on page 2 show, under David Cameron, investment in vital new energy infrastructure has collapsed. A government committed to cleaning up our power would give businesses confidence to invest in vital new schemes such as carbon capture and storage.
To rebuild our power supply could cost £200bn. It is a once-in-a-generation challenge, but also opportunity, for Britain. Hull is the hardest place is the country to find a job, with 15,000 out of work. Siemens wants to build a new, £80m wind-turbine factory, creating thousands of jobs. But it won't until the Government commits to decarbonisation. For Hull's jobless, and thousands more like them around the country, this is a chance we cannot afford to miss.
Caroline Flint is Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary
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