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Nigel Hastilow: A future as bright as a 40 watt bulb

By Nigel Hastilow | Nigel Hastilow | Published:

How much more are you prepared to pay for your electricity? In France, they put up the price of petrol by 15 per cent and the country went into meltdown.

Where are we going to get our energy – and how much will it cost?

In Zimbabwe, people are being killed during protests after fuel prices trebled.

In this country, there were strikes and shortages when Tony Blair’s Government put prices up to 80p a litre (those were the days).

This month, the Government is imposing an energy price cap which will supposedly save us between £76 and £120 per household.

This idea was first proposed by Ed Miliband when he was Labour leader. It was duly rubbished by the Tories until they discovered how popular it was so Theresa May is introducing it anyway.

The point is that fuel prices are a big deal for all of us, so the prospect that they might increase twenty-fold in the next decade or so should be worrying for everybody including our glorious leaders.

At the moment, electricity costs about 15p per kilowatt hour. Under the latest ‘green’ ruse to store wind power under the North Sea as compressed air and release it when demand is high, the cost would rise to anywhere between 33p and £3.66 per kilowatt hour.

Of course, it probably won’t come to that if only because, by then, we’ll all be out on the streets in our own yellow vests protesting against the Government’s ‘green’ policies.

There is, though, a real danger something drastic will be needed if the country’s demand for electricity is going to be supplied.

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Transport is the biggest problem. At the moment, our vehicles run on filthy old petrol or even dirtier diesel. Everybody except motorists is in full agreement this has got to change so, by 2040, the internal combustion engine will be banned from our roads.

Instead we will all potter round in electric vehicles which, we must hope, won’t take a day and a half to re-charge and will have a range of more than 120 miles.

Demand for electricity to power these cars, not to mention trains like HS2 and even aeroplanes, is expected to rise 128 per cent by 2035.

Yet we are getting rid of coal-fired power stations. The seven remaining are all due to shut by 2025. This is supposed to be good news for the environment.

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Instead, we have wind farms, solar energy and even, maybe, wave power. The snag is they all depend on the vagaries of the weather and there’s no obvious way to store the energy they produce – hence the North Sea compressed-air idea.

Radioactive

The solution to rising demand is supposed to be nuclear power. It’s green, for a start, always assuming you refer only to emissions and don’t mention the half-life decay of radioactive materials which can be 2,400 years.

Nuclear energy may be sort-of environmentally-friendly but it’s expensive which seems to be why the Government’s nuclear programme is falling apart.

The Japanese company Hitachi has given up building a new plant in Anglesey, and Toshiba has pulled out of a similar scheme in Cumbria.

That only leaves the Chinese-French consortium building the £20 billion Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset.

The Government has promised this energy will be paid for at twice the market price, with the extra costs added to our fuel bills. Presumably Hitachi and Toshiba have yet to secure similarly lucrative deals while no British company seems prepared to touch the nuclear programme with a bargepole.

Fracking - fracturing rock and pouring in water to release natural gas - could come to our rescue. But critics claim the process causes earthquakes and the one site operated by Cuadrilla in Lancashire was mothballed for seven years before reopening last October.

Since then it’s made stop-start progress with minor earth tremors throwing fuel on the fire of opposition to the entire process. Fracking may be a big success in America but the green lobby is determined to kill it off here.

True, most devices which need electricity – from fridges to phones – are much more efficient than they used to be. Even so, if our transport requirements have to be met by electricity, the future looks about as bright as a 40-watt bulb.

Wind, waves and sun are all very well but it is questionable whether we will be able to travel freely and turn night into day in a clean, green future.

It’s possible someone will work out how to produce limitless supplies of energy at knock-down prices through nuclear fusion. But that’s a bit like medieval alchemists who thought they could convert base metal into gold – a nice idea which isn’t going to happen.

Which leaves us with the age-old problem of supply and demand. If demand for electricity rises and supply falls, prices will only go one way.

Still, we could resort to sitting round our log fires reading books by candlelight. Except the Government wants to ban domestic fires and candles as well.

Fast and loose - I see the region’s only world-famous theatre troupe, Royal Shakespeare Company, is traducing the Bard’s good name yet again in its desperation to be right-on and politically correct.

Last year they had a woman playing ‘Cymbeline, King of Britain’ (clue in the title if you ask me). Now we can look forward to ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ with a man playing the role of the shrew, Katherine, in a ‘reimagined 1590’ where ‘England is a matriarchy’.

The RSC says it aims to reflect ‘diversity'. We have to put up with this drivel and carry on forking out £15 million a year in grants because the theatre is run by luvvies, for luvvies.

Duke of hazard - Give the Duke of Edinburgh a break. Yes, he was involved in a nasty car crash and yes, somebody could have died. But they didn’t. Everyone lived to moan to the papers about how awful Prince Philip is.

He may be getting on a bit but I don’t suppose even at 97 he’s that much worse a driver than dozens of 19-year-old boy racers with 20-20 vision and lightning-fast reactions.

True, many elderly motorists never had to take a driving test but they fought a war to defend our freedom to carry on driving on the left, among other things.

Besides, if we deprive old people of their wheels, how would my 96-year-old aunt get to the hairdresser’s (despite her recent speeding fine)?

The shopkeeper - It wasn’t much of a surprise to learn HMV was going bust again, having staggered on for six years after its last collapse.

What is a surprise is that Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct billionaire, is thinking of buying up what’s left of the company.

The Newcastle United owner, whose staff were said by MPs to endure ‘Victorian workhouse’ conditions, must know a thing or two about Britain’s High Streets. Let’s hope he’s got a better grasp of what’s going on than the consultants who say 175,000 retail jobs and 23,000 shops will be lost this year.

Nigel Hastilow

By Nigel Hastilow

Express & Star columnist

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