Ed Davey : Lounge Lizard

Nothing can really top an Energy Live News day of energy debates rounded off by a beer and the spectacle of a respectable ex-Energy Minister lounging in playboy fashion on a bar stool nursing a glass of red wine (or two) and being nigh on scathing about UK energy policy – or the total lack thereof.

As I recall it, but I didn’t take notes or a voice recording, Ed Davey, now an energy consultant as “Energy Destinations”, had the temerity to call out the current UK Government as “liars” about the Levy Control Framework being overspent, and quoted others as saying that the current Tory energy strategy is “stupid” and “barmy”.

He said, as I remember it, that the Tories have never offered viable alternatives to things that are failing, and that he personally wouldn’t bet his house on the claims of large volumes of shale gas production. I believe he said that the Tories pushing through shale gas development was bound to create strong resistance – although he didn’t stoop so low as to suggest that the main resistance to shale gas was coming from… Tory ruralshire voters.

Conservative voters in every town and village seem to be the key deniers of climate change science, and appear to me to be generally against any form of energy investment – wind, solar and shale, and any new cables and pipes. Deranged or rabid that may seem, at first glance. And possibly the second glance, too. But there you are. A Party can’t choose the sanity of its voters. Although if I were in the Tory Government, I’d be highly embarrassed by some of these people. There are plenty of “ouch” moments to deal with – such as the entire cancellation of a perfectly viable wind power project offshore in southern England, just because of the contributors to the Letters Page in the Bournemouth Echo newspaper and the local yachtsmen. The whole fate of human civilisation could rest in the hands of uneducated yokels dismissing renewable energy because they listened to James Delingpole’s gut instinct about the reliability of global warming science. But I digress.

It is the height of Conservative Government cowardice and illogic to permit local groups to fight political battles against new energy investment, instead of making the strategic case for new energy, particularly renewables. Also, it is ridiculous to use subsidy or “golden egg” community bribes to roll out infrastructure development. Sorry. They’re not “bribes”. Not even if money is being handed out by the shedload to communities volunteering to host industrially landscape-disfiguring and toxic shale gas developments or nuclear waste disposal facilities that need monitoring for decades or even centuries to guarantee their environmental security.

Ed Davey wanted to remind his audience that he had been the longest serving Energy Minister since 1997 (did I get that right ?) – which is about right, as many others have been pushed out of office on one pretext or another – faux scandal after faux scandal. Nobody would want that job.

Ed Davey said that trade with other countries was the way to build global security and address things such as human rights issues, so he has no problem in energy trade and investment with China – and that he has his own project there.

After the “Ed Davey, Unplugged” interview with Energy Live News, I hung about earwigging to Ed talk to his encircling fandom. I think the first question he got was about thorium nuclear power, small modular reactors or nuclear fusion or something, because he was talking about how advanced designs could not be said to be feasible, even though people claim they are feasible.

He made the very good point that a lot of things in energy are uncertain, and that in the energy sector, if anybody claims that something is absolutely certain, they’re lying. I tried to get across the general conclusion of my research into low carbon gas – that there are much better, and more certain, prospects of industrially manufactured low carbon gas than anything that shale gas could ever deliver. He admitted that the range of projections for shale gas production are very wide. I said that many players were working on green gas projects, including the National Grid. He said that National Grid had a vested interest. I agreed.

Because everybody has a vested interest in their own pet favourite energy. There are a number of people in the Conservative Party, for example, who stand to gain significantly from investment in shale gas development. If confidence can be raised in the technology, then investment can be gathered, and distributed, even if there is no commodity of any size to draw on. Shale gas development sounds to me like the plot of The Producers – the aim is to raise a lot of investment capital for a flop, and scarper with the proceeds. A little like the loan guarantee offered for the Hinkley Point C financiers. Another fine British energy subsidy. But again, I digress.

Ed Davey said that a leftwing Labour Party bothered him, and that they had been bandying about a wild high figure for green gas production potential. I said it all depends on energy efficiency measures, and also, that the original research had been done by National Grid and other researchers. Half of residential gas demand being supplied by green gas is not unimaginable or unfeasible if you consider this as an industrial proposition, and not just farm-based tank digestion for biogas and biomethane.

Ed Davey said that he wanted to see shale gas developed, as he didn’t really trust Vladimir Putin. He was keen to point out that the UK Government should work with uncertainty, and build a framework for energy policy that can cope with uncertainty. I tried to make the point that it would take at least 20 years before shale gas production could produce significant volumes, if it could at all. We don’t have time for this highly uncertain strategy. I also tried to say that nobody knows if the EPR nuclear reactor design destined to be built at Hinkley Point C actually works. That’s quite an uncertainty to base core energy policy on, if you ask me.

Since the potential resources of shale gas in the whole of Europe are ten times smaller, or less, than in North America, why would shale gas be expected to be productive in the UK ? The deal that BP has just done with China to develop shale gas in its desertified hinterland is probably a useful project compared to the idiocy of trying to develop shale gas in Britain. The BP-China deal, by the way, was signed in under cover of the news of the Chinese investment in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, but I think the BP-China-shale-gas story is far more important. I think Hinkley Point C is a project that stands a chance of falling flat on its face – either because the EPR doesn’t work – something the Chinese should soon be able to tell us because they’re building a pair in Taishan – or because it cannot get built in a useful timeframe.

Ed Davey’s position, as a Liberal, of course, is that he wants to let all the possible energy technologies come on, and see which succeed. He gave no recognition of the support needed to bring on some new or currently niche technologies. Or the subsidies still being received by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industry.

Ed’s view is that David Cameron will not want to break up or disband the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but that when George Osborne becomes Leader of the Conservative Party, and becomes Prime Minister in the next General Election, he will definitely want to get rid of DECC. Ed Davey didn’t mention that over half of DECC’s budget is committed to nuclear decommissioning, and that this will still need to get paid for, even if DECC dies a departmental death.

Although Ed Davey admitted that the strike price for power arising from the Contract for Difference agreed for the Hinkley Point C was high, he said that this was to pay for the eventual decommissioning of the plant and the disposal of the fuel waste. However, he didn’t seem to realise that this is likely to be under-costed, as the final disposal of nuclear waste and nuclear fuel will still paid for by the British taxpayer, as it will be sold back from the private energy companies when the Geological Disposal Facility will be built. So, in addition to the 60 years or more of radioactive waste and radioactive spent nuclear fuel that the British people have yet to pay to dispose of, we will be lumped with paying the spiralling costs of disposing of all the waste from the new nuclear projects as well. No lessons learned there, then.

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