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Fin McCarron: Putin won't end his war until we empty his energy war chest

Fin McCarron (International Programme Manager at CEN)

A year ago today, Russia launched an unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Every day since, the Ukrainian people have proved the commentators who thought this would be a quick Russian victory resoundingly wrong.

Despite this, Putin won’t back down. His rallies and lies to the Russian people all this last week have made it clear. He has no intention of ending this war while he still has money to pour into it.

Putin had hoped that oil and gas would give him this money, immune to sanctions unless Europe was prepared to turn off its lights. This was a fair bet - Europe was highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels making up about 40% of its gas and coal and 30% of it’s oil, although the UK was far less reliant. In 2021, imports of gas, oil and coal from Russia to the UK were worth a combined £4.5 billion.

But this bet hasn’t paid off. Since the start of this year, the UK has banned the import of Russian gas, and through a huge national effort, our level of energy dependence on Russia is now at it’s lowest level since records began. Europe has also reduced it’s dependence, although to a lesser extent. We should keep up the message that every pound not spent on oil and gas is another pound we take out of Putin’s pocket.

But so long as we rely on fossil fuels, we will be exposed to volatile international oil and gas markets under Putin’s malign influence. We need to build a more independent, resilience energy system. That means accelerating efforts to build new, secure energy generators like offshore wind farms by speeding up planning processes. But to make a difference this winter, we should focus on unlocking onshore wind, which we can build in months, not years. No one owns wind like Putin owns oil or gas, but the UK has the greatest wind energy potential in Europe - we need to utilise it to lower bills.

The problem when it comes to onshore wind isn’t our technical expertise but our planning system. For years a de facto ban on new onshore wind has stopped many new renewables projects and stifled growth. If it weren’t for the ban, we could have built enough onshore wind power capacity to cut our gas demand by more than we imported from Russia in 2021.

Following a backbench effort to end the ban led by CEN MP Simon Clarke, the government has agreed to consult on removing the planning obstacles while giving communities a genuine say. New planning rules will need to ensure that a small handful of objections cannot veto new onshore wind power so we can quickly add more electricity to the grid and reduce our dependence on expensive fossil fuels.

Innovative ways of rewarding communities who want new onshore wind (or indeed any renewables) in their local area will also play a role. The Octopus energy fan club provides lower bills to local communities near wind turbines, including up to 50% off unit price when the turbines produce excess energy. If people can see lower bills, they’re much more likely to welcome these energy generators into their communities and allow people put the lights on without funding Putin’s war.

Building new renewables is more than just fighting climate change. In the wake of Putin's war, it means independence and freedom. The UK and Europe need to look to wind and solar power to quickly defund Russia's military machine to help Ukraine and shield our nations from Putin's malign influence on energy markets.


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