Closure of the Rough gas storage field in 2017 made Britain increasingly dependent on others for our basic energy supply. Twenty miles off the Yorkshire coast, Rough had for 30 years cushioned Britain from the volatility of supply, holding 70 per cent of the country’s gas reserve.
Centrica (British Gas), which owns the field, was unwilling to stump up £1.6 billion to make necessary upgrades, and the government refused to cover the costs with a subsidy. Accordingly, the facility was allowed to close five years ago, despite dire warnings within the industry.
Approaching this winter Britain had one week’s reserve of gas, in stark contrast to countries like Holland and Germany, with reserves of two and four months respectively.
Successive governments have insisted “the market will provide”. Well, yes, if we’re prepared to pay any price. And, as everyone is aware, the cost of imported gas has rocketed. Gas exporters will go where the pickings are richest.
So huge liquid natural gas tankers, many from West Africa and the USA, are diverting from China to sell in Europe, and particularly here. In January of this year, as British prices rose, one such tanker doubled back through the Panama Canal, adding $400,000 to its costs.
These highly polluting journeys (tankers don’t run on batteries) are due in no small way to the government's obsession with moving to net zero carbon, relying on as yet underdeveloped technologies and intermittent renewables.
Dependence on gas has soared precisely because renewables require reliable back up. Alternative sources of power will be found, perhaps hydrogen or even the holy grail of nuclear fusion, but they are not yet viable for the needs of a modern economy.
During the transitional period until newer sources of energy become readily available, Britain will have to rely on conventional sources. The country’s nuclear estate is not fit for purpose, coal has been closed down, so gas, and gas storage has to be an integral part of the current mix.
Seeing the eye-watering price gas is commanding, Centrica has discovered that it does in fact have the £1.6 billion needed to resume conventional gas storage, but wants to recover the costs via users’ energy bills.
The government must give up its illusory goal of instant carbon net zero – or face voter backlash at the unsustainable cost of heating and lighting our homes.
• Related article: Energy security – essential for independence