The National Energy Conversation

Niall was busy tippy-tap-typing away on his fancy Apploid, and I was feeling abject enough to eat marshmallows and watch an entire box set of old TV.

I was considering the futility of trying to convince anyone of anything. I have always strived not to be a “person of influence” because I don’t want to manipulate people. I try to talk sense in every personal exchange, but I really don’t like extensive public relations. Evangelism can lead to broken relationships; proselytising can shut one out of consensus-forming.

Why should I bother to try to “campaign” about energy futures ? There’s nobody ready to take my call, or at least, nobody who has an actual key-turning role. Why should I respond to the political positioning of this U-Turn Coalition Government – they propose ridiculous, unworkable, divisive, sometimes illegal measures and wait for the population to shout them down on Twitter. It’s all very angry. That’s not a very positive way forward. What does anybody need a public mandate for, when logical reasoning should suffice ?

I paused. From the other side of the room, I brought the heavy green book and dropped it from a height of nine centimetres so that it thumped on the occasional table (which, incidentally, turned out to be lighter than the book).

“Look at this !”, I demanded, after Niall had recomposed himself, “the final work of a man who is now deceased. An opus of clear thinking. Such a weight, and yet it hasn’t changed a thing ! What do you have to do to convince people of common sense ?”

Niall was perturbed and asked about the book. I turned the chit chat back to the question of the pointlessness of communication. “What’s the point ? Seriously, what’s the point of trying to engage in the national energy conversation ? Those making the decisions have a whole nest of defence systems designed to keep out alternative views. Ministers never stay longer than ten minutes in a stakeholder meeting. And when you phone the Department of Energy and Climate Change, to ask if you can observe a forum where policy is discussed, they suggest you read Hansard’s record of parliamentary debates.”

I was on a roll. “It’s patently obvious that nuclear power is sunk, and yet they’re continuing with the insane decision to massively subsidise it. To. The. Hilt. A number of major industry players have pulled out, and now the rumour mill is abuzz with the notion that the Chinese might enter the deal that EdF is trying to put together. The Chinese ! They’ll only take part if the stupid British promise gazillions of cash. Like they only took part in the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols for a lot of niche chemical abatement. They’re not seriously going to want to invest in dumb UK nuclear projects without the promise of serious lolly.”

Sander entered the room. I apologised for being a bit loud. He wanted to find out what the deal was. I explained the essential policy jigsaw of the Electricity Market Reform. When I explained the Contracts for Difference (CfD, now CfD FiT) concept, Niall pointed out I didn’t mention that the Government could claw back cash if electricity market prices went above the “strike price”. I said, “Honestly, how could they get the money back ? What would be the mechanism to pay down the difference ? The electricity market is complex enough already. There’s no way they could administer this. And anyway, the strike price is likely to be set so high, the market will never bust through that level, or there will be extensive market rigging.”

In the European electricity market context, the British Electricity Market Reform is almost completely anomalous. It’s going to lock British power customers into long-term high prices. It’s going to interfere with cross-border power network projects that are so necessary for energy security in the region. It’s going to upset plans to optimise generation. And all to support way-dead nuclear power.

“Can they not see this ? Twenty-five years ago was an unprecedented nuclear power accident. It was “never again” stuff, but nothing improved. And then in 2011 was another major nuclear power accident. It’s just shown that nobody can promise it won’t happen again. It was just a matter of statistics and time. Nuclear power is going to keep ruining economies. Nobody wants to underwrite it, neither against accidents, poor operational efficiency, patching design flaws nor overruns on construction. The European Union is demanding costly safety upgrades and Electricite de France is begging the United Kingdom for subsidies – ostensibly for new nuclear reactors, but actually it will end up being used for operations and maintenance of creaking, cracking old reactors across the UK and France. Why should the British power bill payer be forced to do this ?”

Sander’s comment was, “Well, what is the purpose of life, anyway ? Humans are not programmed for survival. To solve this problem we need to change human DNA.”

[ Some names may have been changed in order to shield their identities. ]

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