Chris Huhne – the Bumbling Energy Minister

Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary, Liberal Democrat and Prize Chump

The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, has announced eight sites for new nuclear power stations – but ruled out plans for a tidal power scheme in the Severn Estuary.

At the same time, he claimed he wanted half of Britain’s new capacity by 2025 to come from renewables – by which he means renewables excluding nuclear.

With or without the Severn Barrage scheme, that target is completely unachievable. Without the Barrage, it is even more out of sight.

Meanwhile, Mr Huhne is still insisting there will be no public subsidies available for any nuclear stations – which may well mean that even they don’t get built.

And without some new capacity being built, Britain faces a a 20 percent shortfall in electricity generation capacity by 2015 – which is just five years away. While Mr Huhne plays at being a Cabinet Minister, we are moving inexorably towards a power shortage and widespread power cuts – which could even start before the next general election.

The Severn Barrage, remember, could generate 5 percent of Britain’s power needs. And not a CO2 emission in sight. The environmentalists, though, are mostly against it, because … well, because they’re against any and all development of anything. (We’ve seen that with some of them even opposing their holy cow of wind power, because of its alleged dangers to birds.)

An expert, Dr Ralph Kirby, is quoted by the BBC as saying:

The barrage has been killed off for the moment by environmental fundamentalism because environmentalists have always objected to the Severn barrage.

It’s quite unambiguous – the Cardiff to Weston (barrage) can only benefit the environment and those who say otherwise are not telling the truth.

Quite. To put it another way, they’re lying.

The Shadow Welsh Secretary weighed in with a statement that scrapping the Barrage would be disastrous for the economy and the environment. Here’s his take on it:

Not only is Chris Huhne turning his back on the proposed barrage scheme that would have created hundreds of good quality green jobs for Welsh people, it appears that he decided to abandon in its entirety the idea of using the Severn estuary as a generator of electricity.

The proposed barrage would have produced 5% of the UK’s energy needs – equivalent to two nuclear power stations.

which is a bit rich considering the outgoing Labour government stalled consistently on building the Barrage throughout its time in office.

The Severn Estuary, which Could Provide Green Electricity to Meet 5 Percent of Britain’s Needs

Another potential issue that was apparently raised with the Severn Barrage is the potential cost of building it – perhaps as much as £30 billion. This is the reason that Mr Huhne gave for not proceeding with the scheme. As the BBC puts it:

Funding a Severn barrage with public money would be “very costly”, he said, and as finding private investment would be challenging, other options should be pursued.

This is also a complete red herring. The cost of building two nuclear stations could well exceed that, taking into account likely decommissioning and waste disposal costs as well as the cost of construction. And if the government doesn’t want to find the money to build the Barrage, fine – why not announce approval for building the scheme in principle and let private investors decide whether to build it? Why is there this ridiculous assumption that civil servants must “plan” and “lead” any power generation projects?

As private investors will see that the price of electricity can only go up in this country thanks to the government’s foolish policies on the issue, I suspect they may be more willing to fund it than the government expects. But the fact is, they haven’t even been asked.

And why does nuclear power get public backing but not tidal power? The Severn Barrage is not some nutty environmentalist’s dream. It is absolutely buildable with today’s technology and nobody seriously doubts that. (In fact, to be accurate, the technology was up to it even 40 years ago.)

While he’s not going for the Barrage scheme, Mr Huhne seems completely unclear about nuclear power as well – announcing new sites but giving sops to the nutters in his own party by claiming there will be no public subsidy involved.

Meanwhile, there are now no new coal fired schemes being pursued, since the Kingsnorth scheme was shelved in 2009.

The politicians, and their civil service advisors, are all over the place with this issue. I am now even more certain that in three or four years time, we will be racing to plan and build gas-fired stations to fill Britain’s energy shortfall before the power cuts begin. And Mr Huhne will be trying to explain to the environmentalists in his party why he is building new fossil fuelled power stations.

The right answer is “all of the above” – we need new nuclear stations to replace the ones that are wearing out, we need the Barrage to make our electricity greener, and we need new fossil stations because otherwise the lights will go out. Neither our politicians nor the civil servants at the Energy Department seem to understand any of this. They will only understand when they press the light switch and the lights don’t come on.

Chris Huhne should be providing leadership on this issue, and cutting through all this nonsense. He is not. He is failing to make any positive decisions on energy production at all. He is spending his time avoiding decisions because any decision might upset somebody. In short, he is clearly showing himself to be unfit to be a Minister.

It is time he was sacked.

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4 thoughts on “Chris Huhne – the Bumbling Energy Minister

  1. Maybe this is another case of the Civil Service needing a lot more scientists on its staff. They’ve never been good at looking at issues involving science. This attitude to the Severn Barrier is unbelievable.

    • I certainly agree with you about that. But the point is that Chris Huhne should be on top of his brief. Even if he doesn’t understand the science himself, he should be up to asking awkward questions.

      Here’s a quote from the civil service report:

      In the light of these findings the Government does not see a strategic case to bring forward a Severn tidal power scheme in the immediate term. The costs and risks for the taxpayer and energy consumer would be excessive compared to other low-carbon energy options.
      Furthermore, regulatory barriers create uncertainties that would add to the cost and risk of construction. The Government believes that other options, such as the expansion of wind energy, carbon capture and storage and nuclear power without public subsidy, represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers at this time.

      “Regulatory barriers create uncertainties that would add to the cost and risk of construction”!!! Really, Mr Huhne ought to be able to see through utter garbage like that.

  2. ‘taking into account likely decommissioning and waste disposal costs as well as the cost of construction.’

    Although in fairness that will be paid out a lot later and hopefully when the PSBR is back under control – a bit like pensions – rather than a barrage where 90% of the cost is upfront.

    As you know, I blogged on this before, and I think there were pretty serious unresolved issues with the scheme – most of all, the amount of material carried in suspension in the river and the question of traffic to Bristol.

    However, that wouldn’t have stopped the building of a half a dozen smaller tidal lagoons at strategic points around the coast for much the same cost as the full barrage – one in the Severn, one in the Thames, one in the Humber, one in the Forth, one in the Mersey, etc. They would have been better than one big barrage trying to power a whole country (Wales) because less would have been lost in transmission. Moreover, they allow for more security.

    I think this is really a failure of political imagination. The engineering technology, as you say, is in place and has been for decades. We just don’t have politicians who think properly on a national scale.

    Incidentally, re. Hain – everyone in Wales was really disappointed when he got back in despite losing every proper election he’s fought (Castellnedd doesn’t count). It’s worse even than Cheryl Gillan, who was at least born in Wales!

    • I completely agree (although I don’t see why we shouldn’t have the full Severn Barrage AND those other schemes you mentioned).

      Given that the report (as I mentioned in the last comment) contains quite a bit of pure drivel it is clear that Huhne hasn’t even bothered to read it.

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