The principle of investing in renewable energy sources in part to diversify supply and build energy security is an excellent one. Many people, Greens in particular, have been calling for such investment for decades. Unfortuneately it hasn’t really happened on any significant scale, despite the fact that we seem to be increasingly reliant on fuels like gas and coal from abroad.
Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West Stephen Williams is, however, talking out of his hat by giving the 10 mile long Severn Barrage proposal as an example of enhancing energy security worth highlighting. Supposedly this is a renewable energy development that will ‘help to stave off power supply threats from Russia’ because ‘Putin is starting to use energy supply as a weapon against Western Europe’ (‘Barrage will stop threat from Russia’, Bristol Evening Post, Sept 17th).
As an absolutely massive civil engineering project the Severn Barrage will of course take many years to design, approve, construct and get into full operation and so cannot offer us any increase in energy security until it is. So - contrary to the headline and Stephen Williams words - it wont stop the threat from Russia, which is happening right now and in the critical decade to come (perhaps even as we construct our barrage if we ever got round to it)!
On these grounds the barrage cant help us fight climate change for some time either – in fact because of the many tonnes of concrete, steel and fuel used in construction it would add to climate change until the carbon free energy production makes up for it. Yet science tells us that the coming decade is the most critical one for fighting climate change and establishing better energy security.
To build our energy security (and fight climate change) more rapidly what we really need, and what Stephen Williams should be highlighting, is a very much larger energy efficiency, insulation and conservation program, sufficient to significantly lower energy demand, combined with the introduction of 'feed-in tariffs' to boost domestic 'micro-generation' of energy. These policies work faster, are truly green, and along with the introduction of individual carbon allowances, annual emissions cuts of nine per cent, plus investment in renewables generally, represent the next generation of low or zero carbon energy strategies.