How would you like to be guaranteed a price for your products for the next thirty-five years, and at double the price you sell them for now? Sounds like a great idea. However, there are a couple of downsides…
For example, you’ll be allowed to sell only the lowest priced item, even if the customer wants a more expensive one. And you’ll get severely castigated every time you make a profit, or when there is a shortage because you were refused permission to make any more. In addition, you’ll find there might be periods of a couple of years when you aren’t allowed to increase the price, but you’ll get plenty of warning so that you can bump it up beforehand instead. Though every now and then you’ll have to pay a dollop of cash into the official protection racket.
Yes, it seems crazy – but this is exactly what is happening if you are an energy supplier here in the UK. Any day now the lights could go off because we forgot to build any new power stations to replace the ones that are slowly falling down or getting old. But now we’ve got no money to build new ones anyway, so we need to bribe other countries to pop over here and bring some with them. We pioneered commercial nuclear power generation as far back as the mid 50’s, but we seem to have forgotten the recipe and so, even if we did have a few pounds hidden down the back of the sofa, it wouldn’t help.
Mind you, we have managed to rustle up the cash to build a new railway line – which it seems could cost as much as half a dozen new nuclear power stations. And we’ve got loads of shale underneath our seaside resorts that could be used to fuel cheap gas-driven power stations, but we’re not sure if we have the nerve to dig it out.
OK, so I’ve nailed solar panels all over our roof that, on a decent day, generate enough electricity to power most things in the house. Except I discovered that, when the mains electricity goes off, so do they. Something to do with not electrocuting the maintenance men from the electric company that come and dig up the street, they say. Nobody I asked can tell me why it can’t be configured to disconnect from the incoming wires when the mains power dies, or why they can’t wear rubber gloves and wellington boots instead.
So I probably need to buy some new batteries for my server UPSs, keep my laptops fully charged, and check if the petrol generator hidden under a pile of rubbish at the back of the garage still works. I bought it a few years ago I when the local power company couldn’t decide where the wires to our house came from, which made finding the intermittent fault (it broke when it rained, a fairly regular occurrence here in England) a somewhat long-winded (two years, in fact) process.
Of course, what will be a real humdinger is if, when they finally get the new super-duper, high speed, all-electric railway built, they discover we don’t have enough electricity to run any trains…