Government accused of failing to prepare for winter energy crisis

The latest situation has piled pressure on the Government for a reform of the system. It is something Sir Dieter has been proposing for a while, having in 2017 carried out a Cost of Energy review, laying out a whole host of recommendations including “creating and developing serious independent system operators at the national and the regional levels, storage, sorting out the legacy renewables costs, and setting the price cap on the basis of margins”.

Storage is an issue which comes up time and time again – and one which critics argue the Government should have addressed earlier. Sir Jim earlier this week bemoaned the lack of gas storage in the UK compared to other nations. The UK, he said, had 10 days’ storage – something which is “a bit pathetic really for a nation as important as the UK, on the continent they’ve got 40 or 50 days’ storage”.

Clive Moffatt, a gas consultant and former adviser to the Government on energy security, says this was brought to the Government’s attention a long time ago. Around 10 years ago, he was speaking to ministers about what needed to be put in place to prepare for possible energy issues.

“We said you urgently need to encourage new investment in gas storage, and also we said we needed more flexible and reliable power stations on gas. We should have invested in those so, if the wind stopped blowing and the sun stopped shining, we had gas. Had they done that, we wouldn’t be here.”

To the contrary, the UK has been closing gas storage facilities – most notoriously, the Rough site off the Yorkshire coast, which the Government allowed to shut down in 2017.

And it is not the first time Britain has had a warning sign that reform was needed. “In 2018, we had a similar problem, and in 2013,” says Moffatt. “Successive governments over the years have just ignored this issue, especially since the decision was taken to decarbonise the electricity markets. Governments have ignored the importance of gas and how important it will be in the long-term transition to net zero.”

Now, having shrugged off such pressure for years, it seems the Government’s apathy is coming back to bite it. Amid the current energy crisis, gas supply could soon start to tighten.

The risks are stark. “It could be back to the three-day week,” Moffatt says. “If we have that perfect storm situation, and there’s the threat that there will be no gas in the system, the Government would have to limit electricity consumption and limit gas consumption by industry.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We have been repeatedly clear that the current situation is not a question of security of gas supply, but of high prices set by international markets. We are confident that security of supply will be maintained this winter and beyond.”

Yet, for experts, frustration is rife. Warnings have been falling on deaf ears for years, and planning has fallen short. “The decisions that should have been taken, should have been taken 10 years ago,” says Moffatt. “Every year that they weren’t and nothing was done, and now we’ve ended up where we are now, which is completely at the mercy of the market.

“If you ask me, why wasn’t that done, well we should ask the Government.”

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