Skip to main content

The gas crisis

Heading for a Winter of Discontent?

“It’s going to be a cold, hard winter,” says Ian Dunt in the I newspaper. Gas prices are soaring around the world, but Britain has been hit particularly hard – over the past year, prices have gone up fivefold here compared to twofold in the US. Brexit, for once, isn’t the problem: unusually low wind speeds and creaky, out-of-service nuclear reactors mean we have few gas alternatives. Energy companies are going under and millions of households are facing bill increases of more than £400 a year. It’s a “nightmare combination” when you add in inflation and food and labour shortages, not to mention the universal credit cut and looming tax rises.

Blame lies squarely with the government, says The Spectator. In 2017, the Rough gas storage facility off the Yorkshire coast was shut, and with it two-thirds of our capacity. It means Britain has just four days of reserves, “no buffer at all” compared with Germany’s eight weeks and France’s 14. By November’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Britain could be desperately bailing out fossil-fuel companies to keep the lights on – hardly a “great advertisement to the world”. Of course we should aim towards net zero, but green subsidies and other levies account for 25p in every £1 of our household electricity bills. The results of treating energy security as an “afterthought” were on show this week.

So were eerie omens of the Winter of Discontent in the 1970s, says Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. Back then “power cuts became a feature of life”, a heating limit of 17C was imposed in offices, and a 50mph speed limit was introduced. “There was even talk of rationing, using coupons left over from the Second World War.” Sure, today we don’t have double-digit inflation and unions running the country. But ministers are showing “worrying insouciance” – the pandemic is ample proof of what happens when a lack of preparedness meets bad luck. Boris Johnson’s famous good fortune will have to run out some time. “Now, where did I put those candles?”

Vladimir Putin isn’t to blame for Britain’s energy woes, says Will Dunn in The New Statesman. Britain imports less than 1% of its gas from Russia. But the state gas giant Gazprom has cut down on its supply to northwestern Europe. A group of 42 members of the European Parliament has demanded an investigation, suggesting this “squeeze on supply” is intended to pressure Europe to speed up the launch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.