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Greg Clark: There must be immediate action to keep Britain's lights on

Ladies and Gentlemen. If we had another term of Labour, we'd have to get used to sitting in the dark. Because for the first time since the 1970s, the Government is expecting to resort to power cuts during the years ahead.

Don't take my word for it. Look at the Government's own predictions. This chart comes from the Government's most recent energy policy paper.

As you can see, from next to no black-outs today, the level goes up, by 2017, to the equivalent of a 15 minute power cut for every household in Greater Manchester, not just once, but every winter night for a month. And that's not the worst of it. This is not the worst-case scenario. That, unbelievably, is the best-case scenario, it assumes that everything in Labour's energy policy will go to plan. A Government that can't keep the lights on doesn't deserve the privilege of power.

<h2>Ostrich-like policy</h2>

To get Britain of this mess, we need to understand how they got us into it. The answer is quite simple. During 12 long years, they made like the ostrich and stuck their heads in the sand. They refused to face the challenges that everyone knew had to be confronted. Does that sound familiar? It should do. Because it's exactly the approach they took to the economy. George Osborne made the point this morning. They didn't save for a rainy day, because Gordon Brown said there would be no more rainy days. No more boom and bust, he said - the weather abolished! They may not have known the credit crunch was coming.

But they did know the energy crunch was coming.

<h2>Gas</h2>

They knew that North Sea oil and gas would reach its peak and fall away. They knew we'd become increasingly dependent on imported gas. On gas from Russia, that flows through the Ukraine to Europe - or not, if the Kremlin turns off the tap. Other countries in this position make sure they have enough storage to see them through the winter. Do you know how many days gas storage the Germans have? 100. Do you know how many days gas storage the French have? 120. Do you know how many days we have? Fifteen days' worth. And last winter when, once again, Russia turned off the gas, that total fell to just four days. If the weather had been a bit colder; if the recession had begun a bit later; we would have run out of gas.  Back to 1974.

<h2>Nuclear</h2>

It's the same with nuclear power. They've known for all of the last 12 years that most of our existing nuclear fleet would reach the end of its planned life before 2017. But it's now too late to build a new one and have it operating before that crunch date.

<h2>Coal</h2>

And what is true of gas and of nuclear power is true of coal too. We've known for years that the most polluting coal-fired stations would have to close. They signed the agreements to close them down. So, where's the clean coal capacity to fill the gap?

<h2>Renewables</h2>

We need renewable energy to fill the gap too. Britain has some of the best renewable resources in the world - not just on land, but in the wind, wave and tidal power available off one of the longest coastlines in Europe. A domestic source of energy to make up for the loss of North Sea oil and gas. But in the decade to 2005, the share of energy we get from renewable sources went from 1 per cent to just 1.3 per cent. The lowest proportion of any European country except Malta and Luxembourg. So, the reason why the Government is predicting power cuts is because they ducked every decision about our energy security during twelve years in office. What a disgrace. 

<h2>15 Energy ministers</h2>

Twelve years, by the way, in which there have been no less than fifteen energy ministers. They had an average of nine months each. Enough to make a baby. But apparently not to make a decision.

<h2>Copenhagen</h2>

An ostrich-like tendency to put your head in the sand makes you blind not only to looming dangers, but to coming opportunities. And one of the biggest opportunities for Britain is about to present itself. In 62 days time, the world's leaders will meet in Copenhagen to thrash out a new deal on climate change.  It is a crucial moment.  

From the very beginning of his leadership of this Party, David Cameron made clear that Britain must take a position of leadership on the global - as well as our own - environment.  Britain's role is to be a force for progressive change in the world - going right back to William Wilberforce. As William Hague said in a remarkable speech this summer: "The citizens of Britain have always been restless in trying to improve the wider world, and global in our outlook." 

At Copenhagen we must insist that any deal is a rigorous one. One that binds the world in a common commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to below two degrees centigrade. One that finds a way to help our brothers and sisters in the world's poorest countries protect themselves against future floods, famine and drought in addition to - not instead of - what we need to help relieve their current poverty. One that stops the destruction of the rainforest - the green lungs of the planet. I believe a deal is possible. One by one the major players are coming on board. Australia. America. Japan. Even China.

While we in Britain dither and delay, China is literally laying the foundations of a new industrial revolution. 4,000 miles of high speed rail. A massive expansion of nuclear power. And solar power. And wind power. On every front they're making progress. They've spotted the big opportunity. They have recognised that there is a vast new market opening up, and they want to dominate it. They've booked their place in the future - have we?

<h2>Britain's opportunity</h2>

It's a market in which Britain should be extraordinarily well-placed to prosper. The skills that are needed are British strengths - marine engineering and process industries, Located around our coastline in places like Teesside, where I grew up. Inheritors of a proud industrial past, and an even better, cleaner industrial future. We have some of the best universities in the world at the cutting edge of research. And we have geographical advantage - the North Sea's depleted gas wells are ideally suited to storing CO2. And yet while the Government has spent 4 years dithering over CCS, China is getting on with it. It makes me angry to see the advantages we have thrown away by delay. 

<h2>Taking action</h2>

So a Conservative Government would begin with a bound and with immediate action to keep Britain's lights on, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and give Britain leadership in a low carbon world.

  • We will immediately authorise 5 GW of clean coal capacity - enough to keep the lights on by 2017 - by fitting it with Carbon Capture and Storage. 
  • We will publish the planning guidance essential for new nuclear power to be built by 2017 without yet further delays. 

And because, as Churchill put it, energy security "lies in diversity and diversity alone", we will speed up the deployment of renewable energy.

  • We will mandate the National Grid to extend its network out to sea to galvanise the deployment of offshore wind, marine and tidal energy. 
  • We will build marine energy parks, to be world centres in harnessing the power of the sea. 
  • We will provide incentives for biodigestion in towns and on farms because experts say that half of our residential gas needs can be met by waste that would have gone to landfill. 
  • We will allow communities that choose to host onshore wind farms to keep all of the business rates they generate for six years. 
  • We will upgrade our 50 year old national grid into a smart grid for the 21st Century that can manage intelligently the peaks and troughs of demand to match them to supply. 
  • We will make sure that every car has an overnight charging point so that we can cut down on petrol emissions and use energy when it is cheapest. 

We will usher in a long overdue consumer revolution in energy:

  • Every bill will be required to disclose the cheapest possible tariff and how to move it. 
  • Electricity and gas meters - dumb metal wheels spinning in the garage that Thomas Edison would recognise - will be replaced with smart meters allowing customers the choice of tariffs they take for granted with their mobile phone. 
  • We will require complete transparency so that when energy prices fall in the world market they fall for customers too. 
  • And we will give every household in Britain a Green Deal, the right to have any efficiency works that will save money on the bill, immediately, without delay, by a trusted supplier like Marks and Spencer, with the costs paid out of the much greater savings that are unleashed, and creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships. 

Immediate action to: keep the lights on; cut fuel bills; create jobs; make Britain an industrial leader again; and to safeguard our planet by cutting CO2.

It is the historic responsibility of the Conservative Party to put Britain back on the right track - we stand ready to do so again.

A 21st century agenda for the first Conservative Government of the 21st century.

We're ready to deliver. 

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