Environmental hubris has left Britain vulnerable to Putin’s gas blackmail
18 September 2021 • 8:00pm
The Government’s utopian approach to environmentalism – including the end of coal power, shunning fracking, and demanding we drive electric vehicles powered by renewable energy – has always come at a cost. But seldom has that cost been so painful as that exacted by Russia’s apparent rigging of the price of gas through its supply company Gazprom.
Preening ourselves about our green credentials, and thus choosing not to exploit huge gas resources under our land and in our own waters, we have made Britain enormously vulnerable. We foolishly talk up our ability to be powered by renewables – a form of electricity generation that has yet to meet the rhetorical claims politicians make for it. Instead, we are at the mercy of Russia’s decisions about the price of gas: and our vulnerability increases as other factors harm our power supplies.
This danger is already apparent. Last Monday a crunch in the gas supply chain, and the failure of turbines to generate power because of a lack of wind, drove electricity prices to 11 times their normal level. Two days later, another source of electricity on which we have become reliant was itself depleted because of a fire in one of the interconnectors bringing in power from France – another country with whom, suddenly, we are on bad terms. Our vulnerability is about more than being able to turn the lights on. Two British fertiliser plants of global significance have closed, disrupting the supply of carbon dioxide, a by-product essential for carbonated drinks and the processing of meat.
We and the EU are struggling because of the pandemic. Europe’s economies, already limping from over-regulation and in many member states an overvalued currency, are the perfect target for a Russia that wishes to place its boot on Europe’s throat. Putin follows the maxim that there is no better time to kick a man than when he is down.
This price shock is a harbinger of our future if we continue to martyr ourselves in the cause of environmentalism, and if we continue to respond with pusillanimity to the Russians. As the West saw after the oil price boom in 1973, a massive rise in energy prices is as good a way as any to kneecap an economy. If the lights fail across Europe and the food chain implodes, Putin will portray it as a measure of his, and Russia’s power, as tyrants do. Energy supply has, indeed, become a weapon for him.
Britain has only itself to blame. It has created unrealistic levels of dependence on foreign energy through its unquestioning repudiation of other power sources, done to curry favour with an aggressive, emotive and sometimes hysterical green lobby. No-one doubts that preventing global warming is desirable. But to achieve this through insufficiently analysed and precipitate action that torpedoes Western economies and confers a massive competitive advantage upon nations such as China and, indeed, Russia that mock our scruples is political and economic suicide. If that means extending the life of coal-powered energy, or building more nuclear power stations, so be it.
Putin believes he can do as he pleases because the West cowers to him. Gazprom holds the whip hand not least because of German dependence on Russian energy. The almost-departed Angela Merkel has ingratiated herself with Putin for years. However, the economic dependence of Putin and his cronies on the West means two can play at that game.
Unless Putin reins in Gazprom, a complete freezing of Russian assets in this country, the refusal of visas and the denial of the Western champagne lifestyle to these gangsters would be salutary, and, given Russia’s appalling behaviour in so many other regards, is in any case long overdue. The EU should do likewise. Our new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, can take a lead on this. But, above all, relying on a tyranny for our power supplies is madness and it must stop.