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Soaring UK energy bills mean thousands could die this winter

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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More green energy trouble is brewing across the pond. UK families and businesses are being crushed under the weight of high energy costs due to rapidly rising gas prices. With 4.5 million British families facing “fuel poverty,” thousands could die this winter.

“Britain is still the sixth leading economy in the world and that millions of people are struggling to pay their heating bills is a scandal,” Dr. Benny Peiser, director of the UK’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Over the last ten years gas prices have risen 190 percent, reports the UK Telegraph, and electricity prices have risen 120 percent over that time period. UK households now spend more than 27 percent of their earnings on “housing, water, gas, electricity and petrol.”

Rising demand for gas and green energy policies across Europe have put huge strains on the continent’s gas supply, and the political resistance in the UK to drilling for shale gas only adds to the pressure.

The UK government is scrambling to figure out ways to reduce heating bills for families and to stave off the projected 24,000 deaths that will occur this winter due to fuel poverty. Other reports have indicated that soaring energy costs in the UK could kill 200 pensioners per day.

“People are dying, about 25,000 to 30,000 every winter as a result of the cold,” Peiser said. “Many hundreds of thousands of people only survive because they stay in bed.”

The Labour Party has promised to freeze energy bills for 20 months if elected, and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to cut green energy surcharges that add to power bills — and are set to add more in the coming years.

“Many older and vulnerable people all across the UK face a choice between heating and eating this winter, and it shows how out of touch David Cameron is that the only solution he offers is advice on what room to heat,” said Labour Party Member of Parliament Luciana Berger.

Ironically, the UK sits atop vast reserves of shale gas that energy companies are eager to tap into, which would bring down natural gas prices as more of the fuel is extracted. However, political resistance in the country has meant that companies who have had permits to extract shale gas since 2007 are still unable to do so.

“This in a way is an indirect policy impact as well,” Peiser said. “Gas prices would not be as high in Britain had we seen shale development over the last five years.”

The backlash against high gas prices and costly green energy surcharges to power bills, has the conservative UK government looking to fracking as a way to alleviate prices. Cameron has expressed support of fracking for UK shale gas and a government report said the health risks of doing so would be low if properly regulated.

“The U.K. has the most robust regulatory regime in the world for shale gas and companies will only be granted permission to frack for shale if their operations are safe,” said UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon.

However, environmental groups are still resisting fracking, arguing it will harm air and water quality throughout the country.

“Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the U.S. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen here – especially given gaping holes in regulations,” said Helen Rimmer with Friends of the Earth.

Britain gets gas from the North Sea and imports it from Norway and Holland. Unlike in the U.S., however, where the price of natural gas has plummeted due to the advent hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, prices in Europe have risen.

The North Sea gas reserves are rapidly depleting and imported gas is costly. Furthermore, renewable energy policies in other European countries have increased natural gas demand and further driven up prices.

In Germany, the phaseout of nuclear power means that more gas is needed to power homes. German gas demand is also increased by the heavy use of renewable energy in the country. Renewable sources, like solar and wind, are intermittent and require back-up natural gas plants to make up for the power gap when solar and wind farms are powering down.

Also, as the European Union demands that member nations use more renewables and low-carbon fuels, demand for coal an alternative to gas decreases, making gas more expensive.

“The only consolation is that the political elite have realized their policies have come to a dead end,” Peiser said. “They are now beginning to realize Europe’s industry is becoming less competitive as EU energy prices go and U.S. energy prices go down.”

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