Editorial: Steel yourself energy sector for similarly unpredictable times

The news that TATA has said it can’t keep running its UK steel business has been dominating the headlines. Chinese dumping of cheaper steel has been the main cause for […]

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By Sumit Bose

The news that TATA has said it can’t keep running its UK steel business has been dominating the headlines.

Chinese dumping of cheaper steel has been the main cause for its demise and now we have the prospect of a Tory government actually considering re-nationalising an industry to save it!

There are weeks of uncertainty ahead and of course at the heart of it all are jobs, lives and indeed communities in places like Port Talbot, Redcar, Scunthorpe and Rotherham just to name a few. And it’s not just the plants but the supply chain companies that will suffer if the British steel industry finally cracks.

Energy is facing a similar fate but it seems no one is stepping in to consider saving it.

Indeed the closure of perfectly functioning coal power stations and the loss of jobs and communities that goes hand in hand with that, is actually government policy. No blaming the Chinese here.

This month we have already seen the end of Longannet and Ferrybridge power stations. Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire is due to breath its last tomorrow, as will Eggborough and in the summer we will lose Rugely.

Fiddlers Ferry now consigned to history. Image:Thinkstock
No protestors here, Fiddlers Ferry now consigned to history. Image:Thinkstock

 

These giants of our past are designated as underperforming, polluting relics, best scrapped as we transition to a low carbon future via …the burning of shed loads of another (albeit cleaner) fossil fuel, gas.

Somehow the irony is compelling.

I’m not saying that I want protestors to save our coal stations or that coal is not a dirty fuel. But I do question the decision to shut off lots of energy generating fossil fuel power stations and replace them with what? Imports of gas.

I’d love to have lots of clean green energy to take up the workload of these 20th century beasts but we don’t have enough renewable supply. Let’s not even discuss our nuclear shortfall.

No we are closing down these power stations based on ideology not practicality.

The communities around these power stations have an uncertain future now. Jobs have been lost. Men (and it is mainly men), from working class communities who worked generations at a time learning core skills to keep our lights on, will either face retirement, unemployment or if they are very lucky re-deployment.

The cafes nearby will lose their customers. The pubs too. The people who brought in the milk and cleaned the bins and thousands of small firms that supplied these power stations with widgets, all now face uncertainty.

What is a prospect for the TATA steel workers, is a reality for those in coal power stations up and down the land.

Many say if the steel industry is lost, once China recovers and starts using its excess steel for itself, we could be caught short and end up paying for highly expensive steel. We are facing a huge period of infrastructure renewal, none more so than in energy, so having steel will be imperative. That’s why the unions and government are so worried about TATA’s fate.

Will we look back with hindsight and say the same thing about these power stations?

Will we have regrets for destroying communities and infrastructure in the short term?

I hope not for their sake.