Monday, December 02, 2013

Power and Politics

I am sick to death of hearing politicians from all parties bleating on about the evil energy companies.  Let’s not forget that it was the Conservatives that privatised the electricity and gas industries, thereby moving their primary purpose away from the maintenance of supply to the provision of shareholder returns.

Successive governments of all persuasions have then stood idly by while those same companies have been snapped up by foreign firms (EDF - French, e-on and Npower - German, Scottish Power - Spanish), some of which have very good reasons for branching out from their own domestic markets.  Take the French firm EDF for example; in France price increases have been strictly limited by their domestic regulator, so EDF are selling electricity more expensively in the UK than they are in France.  According to the official EU Energy Portal the average price of a kWh of electricity during May 2013 in France was €0.14466 whereas in the UK it was €0.17078, more than 18% higher.

Although I support the objective of greenhouse gas reductions, when the Labour Government signed the Kyoto Protocol they did so without any means of delivering on their commitments.  They therefore skewed the energy markets by forcing companies to buy a proportion of their power from ‘green’ sources, by subsidising everything from solar panels to wind turbines and by forcing energy companies to insulate people’s houses either for free or at below-cost prices.  And to pay for these ludicrously inefficient technologies, they imposed ‘green levies’ on all of our energy bills that now account for around 10% of the average household bill. 

Our countryside and coast is now covered in windmills that spend most of their time doing nothing and every second house is covered with solar panels generating minute quantities of electricity.

At the same time, successive governments have allowed our power generation industry to decline to such an extent that, whereas the UK once led the World in nuclear power technology, we are now having to go cap in hand to the French to build new power stations.

Yet these same politicians have the audacity to point the finger of blame at companies that are simply doing their job in delivering profits to their shareholders.  And who are the shareholders?  You guessed it – through our pension and investment funds many of us will be shareholders in the major energy companies.

What we need is a sensible strategy and a long-term view – but unfortunately that is as unlikely as it is that a politician would admit to the possibility that today’s problems may have been as a result of their party’s decisions.

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