Recently the media gave little attention to an important and worrying announcement – more than 700 jobs went in the UK steel industry. You would have thought they would have given that top billing, with interviews of those left without a job, and angry remonstrations with the managers who carried it out. Far from it. Perhaps the reason is that the closure was brought about primarily by EU/UK energy policy. The company made clear it could not longer afford UK energy prices.
This is not the first time government has been told this. Dear energy was at the centre of the row about the future of the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth in 2013. Uncompetitive cost was cited as a reason for loss of 400 jobs at Port Talbot steel works in July last year. The aluminium industry has lost plenty of jobs in recent years, where energy again is a prime suspect.
The UK’s energy bill for business is far higher as a proportion of costs than the US, thanks to the EU’s renewables policy. It appears that UK energy prices can also be higher than continental competitors, thanks to the reliance on more coal in parts of the continent despite EU policy requirements, assisted by substantial subsidies to industry.
The EU needs to revisit its energy policy if it wishes to support and grow industry in Europe. What is the point of making EU energy with less CO2 than elsewhere on the planet, if it simply moves more industry off to somewhere with lower energy prices emitting more CO2?
The new UK government has agreed to cut back subsidies to solar and onshore wind. However, the main problem arises from the EU targets for more dear energy in the first place, rather than from the particular forms these take. It is worrying that when we go into next winter industry will be warned that they might have to cut back on electricity usage if we have cold weather and little wind, so that the system can cope. The march of the makers requires better than this. The new Climate Change and Energy Secretary needs to put the supply of more cheaper power at the top of her priorities.