Every government needs a thick slice of luck, and this week’s has come as Chris Huhne slid off the political road into the ditch. Ed Davey has a golden chance to drive away from an energy policy which might have been designed to make energy expensive and electricity unreliable. This deadly combination might be called the Windmill Solution to oil and coal dependency, and the former Energy Secretary spent his last months flailing around like a demented turbine trying to make the numbers add up.

While Huhne was tilting at windmills, the energy game has been changed utterly by the emergence of shale gas. This rapidly emerging technology promises relatively cheap and abundant natural gas for at least the next two decades. It has already broken the link between oil and gas prices. It promises to turn the US into an energy exporter, and remove the dependency on Russian gas for the states on its borders.

The UK’s reserves may not add up to another North Sea (although some believe that they might) but they do give the country the chance to keep the lights on when the existing nuclear stations can’t be patched up any longer and before their replacements are built. All that is needed is a policy which sees gas-fired power as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

In practice, this is easier said than done. The effective scrapping of the crackpot scheme to put solar panels on the roofs of the nation’s houses is a start. Gas is currently lumped in with oil and coal, despite producing only half as much CO2., thanks to the last government’s legally-binding commitments to cut emissions. Unless all attempts to get the economy growing again fail, there is no practical possibility of complying with this Walter Mitty legislation. The cost, both economic and in despoilation of tracts of the countryside, is simply too high.

Fortunately, building new gas-fired power stations is quick, cheap and relatively uncontroversial. Shale gas promises us a window of perhaps a couple of decades to find better sources of energy, at a tiny fraction of the price of the current hidden subsidies. In the meantime, our new Energy Secretary might promote two promising areas of development which might actually work: smart meters, and micro-generation. Then we can get our energy policy back on the road.

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