The future of the UK's energy sector was up for debate at the Sage Gateshead yesterday, when leading figures from the industry gathered together to discuss everything from price hikes to potential blackouts.
The breakfast event, hosted by law firm Watson Burton, and supported by the CBI, the North East Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Offshore Federation, included contributions from leading individuals representing traditional and renewable energy generation, as well as those responsible for the distribution of energy.
In the first discussion of the morning, Martin Needham of natural gas supplier of CNG said the UK had known for some time it could experience difficulties in energy production.
Gas, nuclear and renewables all now had a role to play, but the Government was wrong in its approach to closing coal-based facilities.
“We have to have coal, at least to get us over this period,” he said.
“No other country in the EU has the problem we are facing at this moment of time.”
Barnaby Pilgrim of North East energy and property company Banks Group, likewise called for a “balanced mix” in energy supply and pointed out that recent press attention had helped reinforce the importance of the issue among the general public.
The important thing now, as far as public policy was concerned, was that the UK did not shut down existing facilities until new technology was delivering results.
Regarding renewables, greater certainty was required when it came to potential investors. That was something Banks and others were making progress on.
Andrew Mill of Narec, meanwhile, said energy security was the most important of the Government’s three drivers, which also include environmental issues and cost to the consumer.
Britain’s lights, he said, were unlikely to go out, but it was a risk and certainly the system was in crisis.
Colin Henry of Siemens, likewise, said it was more important to look at the overall energy system rather than one particular sector.
Uncertainty, he added, was not always a bad thing in the energy industry, which was changing so that local initiatives played an important role, alongside those from central Government.
“Why are we having this debate?” he said.
“Are we trying to address the climate change issue? On a global basis, that is key, but are we also trying to new jobs in new sectors capable of exporting?
“It’s a balance between the two. Clearly, the Government has identified certain areas where the UK is capable of developments for the export market.”
James Poyner, of Miller Argent, then, accepted there was need stop using fossil fuels as much as in the past, but stressed that coal still had a vital role in energy production.
Successive governments, he said, had been “totally inept” when it came to creating energy security and current policy was akin to “playing Russian Roulette”.
“It really hurts me to know that many citizens in the UK actually believe coal has no longer any relevance to electricity generation,” he added.