Conservative MP Steve Baker, November 16, 2018. (Ben STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s alright for some

The poorest will pay the highest price for Net Zero fantasies

The pandemic and our response to it has hit the country hard. Our economic contraction last year was the worst for hundreds of years and the damage continues to pile up. Millions remain on furlough. Too many businesses have closed their doors for good. That’s why I have worked hard with MPs to promote our collective recovery from this disease.

As we begin to recover, I recall a promise I made to the electors of Wycombe at the 2019 count. After a campaign in which environmental issues were dominant like never before, I promised to pay close attention to climate change policy.

The more I study, the more concerned I become that we are launching a ruinous economic experiment when we can least afford it. With their radical plan to fully decarbonise the entire economy by 2050 — “net zero” — that is just what Conservative ministers are embarked upon.

It is hard to overstate the scale of the transformation ministers intend to deliver. If plans are carried through to their logical conclusion, it will mean the end of the comfortable lifestyles we have enjoyed for generations. Only the well-heeled will be able to afford private cars or foreign holidays. Increasing numbers of people will be unable to take for granted heating their homes.

If ministers don’t obtain and maintain the consent of the public for Net Zero there will be a terrible revolt

Costs are already clocking up at an extraordinary rate, with consumers forced to pour about £11 billion into renewables through their energy bills. Large offshore windfarms can each receive three or four hundred million pounds in subsidy, every year. The largest, Hornsea 1, will take more than half a billion pounds a year. Larger ones are coming. It’s no wonder the drive for renewables has led to electricity prices nearly doubling, a rise that looks likely to continue for decades to come.

This is only the start. The Government is considering plans to force homeowners to spend tens of thousands of pounds retrofitting insulation. Those who fail to do so would be banned from selling their homes, fast eclipsing the cladding scandal. Ministers have announced an early ban on petrol and diesel cars but electric cars can easily cost £10,000 extra. Gas boilers are to be banned in favour of heat pumps, which are three times as expensive, more costly to run and will only adequately heat the most modern homes.

The bill for decarbonising the economy is estimated to surpass £100,000 per household. Whitehall claims the number is lower, but won’t let anyone see their calculations. Figures like these may be tolerable for the zoomocracy who govern us today, but what of the rest of the population? Ordinary families — not least in the former “Red Wall” seats — are going to suffer most.

Even if families could afford it, it seems unlikely total decarbonisation will succeed. The dirty secret of Net Zero is that we still have no way to generate sufficient power when the wind isn’t blowing firmly. Talk about grid-scale batteries is pie in the sky. Engineers know that even the largest batteries are only good for minutes of supply. Hydrogen is far too expensive and other technologies are barely off the drawing board.

Perhaps the Prime Minister is betting on nuclear fusion. At the Conservative conference in 2019, Boris Johnson joked, “They are on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world,” before acknowledging what a spacious verge it is. It won’t be as funny when we are shivering in poverty on this same verge in another 25 years.

The time for blind faith in unreliable, expensive renewables is over

Unless someone invents a way to store energy in massive bulk, Net Zero will mean quivering under duvets in the dark on windless winter nights. We are on the path to poverty, misery and a failure to inspire the world to decarbonise.

With costs not yet apparent in people’s lives, MPs have been content to rub along with consensus, dealing with more immediate existential crises, like the political fiascos over Brexit and the pandemic. Only now, with Brexit behind us and as the economy and life open up after the pandemic, a few commentators are starting to question whether families, businesses and the UK economy as a whole can really afford the astronomical costs of renewables. Ministers urgently need to respond candidly in full to those questions.

If ministers don’t obtain and maintain the consent of the public for Net Zero now with full and frank explanations of the costs and changes ahead — as they relentlessly have not during the panic of the pandemic — eventually there will be a terrible revolt. Fear will not be enough. Even the “nudging” government scientists currently engaging in it confess that, “using fear as a means of control is not ethical” and it “smacks of totalitarianism”. Is this really who we want to be?

Today we need scrutiny and a sober debate about our options. That’s why I have accepted at Lord Lawson’s suggestion an invitation to become a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, one of the very few organisations that has been challenging current orthodoxies, one which government and officials have been trying hard to ignore.

Saving the planet and protecting the climate are noble endeavours. That’s why proposals need careful examination and considered debate and scrutiny. The time for blind faith in unreliable, expensive renewables is over.  To recover from the Covid-shock, we need hard-nosed conservatism and economic realism of the kind that brought the country back from the brink in the 1970s and transformed the UK into a vibrant economy in the decades that followed. If we are to avoid another political fiasco, we desperately need answers to an array of questions about the engineering challenges and cost of current Net Zero policies.

As we approach COP26 — which scandalously is not yet moving online — it is time to end the choreographed consensus of Westminster select committees and TV discussion panels. Let’s rescue prosperity, before it is too late.

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