There is some degree of government complacency with energy price shocks. Ministers think the best thing to do is just accept them. Wholesale gas prices are now more than five times their level two years ago, suggesting a 12% increase in household bills next month. Shoppers could also face empty supermarket shelves as it becomes unprofitable to produce the dry ice and carbon dioxide needed to store meat products. If the energy crisis continues, warns the industry, a Three-day week in the style of the 1970s might need to be introduced.
The government’s response is a familiar one: to deny the problem, shy away from the blame for the failure, and delay action. This strategy recalls the importance of perceptions in times of crisis. If anything looks like a crisis, it is indeed a crisis. This is why Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, perhaps says that there is “no way the lights go out, that people cannot heat their homes”. But what if people can’t afford the energy costs to heat and light their homes? About 85% of UK home heating comes from natural gas. Fuel poverty is a real problem, especially when millions of workers face cuts in universal credit and an increase in national insurance. Price caps help poorer people pay for basic necessities such as gasoline – but there is no indication that ministers believe the hardships deserve more generous help.
Mr. Kwarteng also made it clear that he was not in favor of the emergence of a state-backed energy company. Yet it could be the inevitable consequence of a “supplier of last resort” that the government puts in place to recover customers stranded by the collapse of energy suppliers. The right-wing Tory business secretary is reluctant to admit his shadow Ed Miliband was right when he promoted “Common property” key public services. Mr Miliband also scored a direct hit from the other side of the shipping box by reminding MPs that when the privatized giant Centrica shut down the largest gas storage site in 2017, it made the country more dependent on imports and exposed to price shocks. The Conservative government of the day defended its actions by saying the market knew best. Today, unlike its European neighbors, Britain has limited buffer stocks to stabilize volatile prices. Mr Miliband made a valid point: the privatization of gas had led to a lack of regulatory oversight and strategic vulnerabilities.
There is a logic behind the reluctance of ministers to raise the current difficulties: if there is no crisis, there can be no crisis management. The Conservative Party has been in power for a decade and it shows no signs of engineering, via industrial policy, a green transformation of the economy. Every movement, rather, is in the opposite direction. The ministers say in effect that the climate emergency will be solved by the market and its institutions. There is no sign of this happening.
To protect the security of Britain’s energy supply, ministers must speed up the supply of zero-carbon national electricity. Instead, they seem to slow it down. Nowhere is this more evident than in the production time of a heat and buildings strategy to cope with the homes of more than 10 million drafts that operate with gas boilers. Greenhouse gas emissions from homes are higher today than in 2015. But the installation of electric heat pumps and the insulation of the attic are operating at rates below 10% of what is needed. ‘by 2025, according to the UK. climate change committee. This as the government botched its £ 1.5billion green house program, which prioritized economic recovery over cutting carbon dioxide. The UK’s net zero commitment is simply a public relation without a coherent plan to reduce emissions. A climate emergency is no place for the rigid application of free market principles. Too bad no one told the ministers about it.