Opinion: UK energy freeze debate should highlight our unsustainable reliance on gas

Ed Miliband have promised an energy bill freeze if he were to become Prime Minister. 
By Anders Lorenzen

When leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, at the recent Labour Party conference, promised that if Labour were to form a government after the election in 2015, he would as Prime Minister, enforce energy companies to freeze energy prices.


This has since prompted fierce discussion. The Conservatives led by David Cameron, have argued that Labour won’t be able to do this, while comparing Milliband’s Government, if elected, to a Karl Marx style socialist Government. Energy companies have unsurprisingly not liked it one bit either, saying it would lead to blackouts, that Labour sources have labelled as scaremongering tactics.


At Wednesday’s Prime Ministers Questions (a weekly debate in Parliament where MP’s are offered to direct questions to David Cameron), Cameron again went on to attack Ed Milliband on his energy freeze plans, accusing him of not understanding basic economics, saying that you can’t control energy prices due to volatile global gas prices.


The Prime Minister did strike a core there, and he is right because gas prices are decided globally, based on the global market there is very little the UK can do to influence that.


But then its even more striking, that based on that argument, the UK are still focusing large parts of their energy policy on gas infrastructure; actually they’re planning to expand it with 40 new gas fired power plants in the pipeline. Despite more modern and efficient technology available, the majority of the UK’s energy-inefficient homes are still being heated by gas, as well as the next generation of cookers still being gas – not electric, unlike the most modern countries.


David Cameron has said countless times that he is determined to lower energy prices, and it’s a concern that they keep on rising year on year. But why does he not do the single most important thing he can do in ensuring lower energy prices, in moving away from our reliance on imported natural gas.


The reason might be that he thinks we would suddenly get an influx of new gas, probably something to do with the Governments aggressive approach to fast-track shale gas production. But environmental concerns aside, if and that’s a big if, shale gas would work in the UK and became a large producer of shale gas, it could be be 5-10 years before we start seeing the result of that, industry experts warn us. Which will mean under the very best and optimistic scenarios another 5-10 years of importing volatile expensive natural gas.

As I have argued many times before the UK have a perfect opportunity in becoming energy independent in renewable energy. We need to adopt our energy infrastructure to work with the increasing amount of renewable energy we produce. We need to move away from such a dominant reliance on gas, building one gas powered power plant after the other is deeply irresponsible and will do nothing but increase household energy bills. We would also need to use more efficient ways of heating our homes and cook our food. An aggressive approach to energy efficiency both in our homes and businesses will add to lower our reliance on natural gas. But I acknowledge that gas will continue to play a role for some time as our infrastructure is built around it. However, we must look at alternative gas use. Alternatives that wouldn’t mean that energy bills will go up, gas that can be produced in the UK, gas from landfill waste, gas from sewage waste – the opportunities are many and must be seized.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

Related news:
Opinion: Why the UK should move away from a gas future
Opinion: The green economy is alive and kicking

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