Britain will struggle to “keep the lights on” unless the Government changes its green energy policies, the former environment secretary will warn this week.
Owen Paterson will say that the Government’s plan to slash carbon emissions and rely more heavily on wind farms and other renewable energy sources is fatally flawed.
He will argue that the 2008 Climate Change Act, which ties Britain into stringent targets to reduce the use of fossil fuels, should be suspended until other countries agree to take similar measures. If they refuse, the legislation should be scrapped altogether, he will say.
The speech will be Mr Paterson’s first significant intervention in the green energy debate since he was sacked as environment secretary during this summer’s Cabinet reshuffle.
In his address, he will set out an alternative strategy that would see British homes serviced by dozens of small nuclear power stations.
He will also suggest that home owners should get used to temporary power cuts – cutting the electricity to appliances such as fridges for two hours at a time, for example – to conserve energy.
Mr Paterson will deliver the lecture at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank set up by Lord Lawson of Blaby, a climate-change sceptic and former chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet.
In the speech, entitled “Keeping the lights on”, he will say that Britain is the only country to have agreed to the legally binding target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
Campaigners fear that this will bring a big increase in the number of wind farms.
They say that to hit the target Britain must build 2,500 wind turbines every year for 36 years.
Mr Paterson will say that the scale of the investment required to meet the 2050 target “is so great that it could not be achieved”. He will warn that Britain will end up worse off than if it adopted less ambitious but achievable targets. Mr Paterson voted for the 2008 Climate Change Act in opposition and loyally supported it when he was in power.
However, since he left office he has considered the effect of the legislation and has decided that Britain has to change course.
He will argue this week that ministers should exercise a clause in the Act that allows them to suspend the law without another vote of MPs.
In his speech, on Wednesday night, Mr Paterson will state that, without changes in its current policy, large-scale power cuts will plunge homes across the country into darkness.
“Blind adhesion to the 2050 targets will not reduce emissions and will fail to keep the lights on,” he will say. “The current energy policy is a slave to flawed climate action.
“It will cost £1,100 billion, fail to meet the very emissions targets it is designed to meet, and will not provide the UK’s energy requirements.
“In the short and medium term, costs to consumers will rise dramatically, but there can only be one ultimate consequence of this policy: the lights will go out at some time in the future.
“Not because of a temporary shortfall, but because of structural failures, from which we will find it extremely difficult and expensive to recover.”
He will say that the current “decarbonisation route” will end with the worst of all possible worlds.
The Government will have to build gas and coal power stations “in a screaming hurry”.
Britain’s energy needs are better met by investing in extracting shale gas through fracking and capturing the heat from nuclear reactors, Mr Paterson will argue.
He proposes a mix of energy generation based on smaller “modular” nuclear reactors and “rational” demand management. This would see dozens of small nuclear power stations, using reactors that are already fitted into submarines, being built around the country.
Home owners would also have to get used to timed power cuts using special switches that would cut electricity used by appliances.
“Let us hope we have an opportunity to put it into practice,” he will say. “We must be prepared to stand up to the bullies in the environmental movement and their subsidy-hungry allies.
“What I am proposing is that instead of investing huge sums in wind power, we should encourage investment in four possible common sense policies: shale gas, combined heat and power, small modular nuclear reactors and demand management.
“That would reduce emissions rapidly, without risking power cuts and would be affordable. What’s stopping this programme? Simply, the 2050 target is.”
Mr Paterson has spent the past few months visiting rural Tory seats – he visited six in the week after he was sacked by David Cameron in July.
He said he was appalled at the damage to the countryside from new pylons to take electricity from remote onshore wind farms.
This week’s speech will be Mr Paterson’s first intervention since he lost his job in the Cabinet reshuffle in the summer. He is to make another speech on Europe before Christmas as he seeks a more active role on the Right.
Mr Paterson has already set up a think tank called UK2020 to consider new policies on personal taxation, immigration and the economy.
However, his intervention was dismissed last night by Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary.
Mr Davey said: “Ripping up the Climate Change Act would be one of the most stupid economic decisions imaginable.
“The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change exists while most leading British businesses and City investment funds agree with the Coalition that taking out an ‘insurance policy’ now will protect the UK against astronomical future costs caused by a changing climate.
“The majority of European countries are ready to implement proposals that would see [them] adopt targets similar to our Climate Change Act in a deal the Prime Minister should seal later this month.
“With the USA, China and India also now taking the climate change threat seriously, the global marketplace for green technology is increasingly strong.”
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