Energy regulator Ofgem is warning of the risk of large-scale power cuts by 2015 as Britain's spare capacity for electricity generation is cut from 14 to 4 per cent.
Coal and oil-fired power stations are being closed to comply with European Union targets for reducing carbon emissions.
In a few years time disruptions of supply from Europe or unplanned plant failures threaten to turn off the lights and heaters, according to an Ofgem report.
Doubtless some anti-EU pundits and politicians, along with the global warming deniers, are already blaming the European Union for the dangers. Yet there clearly is a need for Britain and other major culprits to curb carbon emissions in a planned and measurable way.
The Ofgem report will also encourage the big business pro-nuclear lobby to step up its campaign for building more nuclear power stations.
In the absence of plans for massive state investment in alternative but safe technologies, the EU targets appear to have been framed with a view to assisting that lobby.
Greater pressure will now be exerted on British central government to increase subsidies for the construction of more nuclear power plants, guarantee corporate profits and pay the massive clean-up bills after decommissioning.
These demands should be resisted.
The provision of nuclear energy is not carbon-neutral at any stage in its cycle. The costs are enormous and science has yet to find a safe and environmentally friendly way of disposing of the toxic waste.
Nuclear fission power produces plutonium, a vital ingredient of most nuclear weapons. Indeed, evidence suggests that this was the prime motivating factor for Britain's nuclear power programme in the first place.
US governments have made no secret of their interest in utilising British-made plutonium for military purposes.
However, rejecting the nuclear option does not fill the energy gap. Growing dependency on supplies from Europe, Russia, the Caspian Basin and the Middle East may be unavoidable in the short term, but it is not a wise longer-term policy.
Only a compulsive gambler would stake Britain's future energy supplies on the stability of regimes in Russia, Saudi Arabia or central Asia and the Middle East generally.
What is needed is a comprehensive, integrated programme of huge investment in solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power.
The development of "clean coal" and carbon storage technology is now a matter of urgency. This would allow the further exploitation of Britain's substantial deep-mine coal reserves at least until alternative modes of generation can come fully on stream.
Research and development of nuclear fusion, in which the public-sector facility at Culham, Oxfordshire, is one of the world leaders, should be stepped up. This technology does not produce plutonium and the first such plant is already being built in France. Other potential modes of power production include thorium fission.
The time is approaching midnight as far as investing in Britain's future energy needs is concerned. The scale of planning and finance required is vast and can only be met reliably by public ownership and state planning.
The central lesson of the Ofgem report is that the privatised energy sector is utterly incapable of planning and investing for the future.
Of course, Ofgem doesn't make that point, because, like all the other "watchdogs" set up after privatisation, it's a lapdog when it comes to corporate looting and incompetence.
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