Electric energy is a necessity of modern life. Every citizen, in every country requires electric energy, to do any number of everyday things. From boiling the kettle, to washing clothes, to cooking food, to taking public transport, as individuals we each consume lots of electric, and that is before we consider energy intensive industries, such as the steel, ceramics or chemicals, which consume electricity on a monumental scale.
As we all use this resource, any change in the availability or cost of electric energy will, logical, have an impact on us all; be that in higher electricity bills, increased costs for goods which rely on electricity during production or jobs in energy intensive industries.
At this moment in time, the UK has some of the highest costs for electricity in Europe. Before taxes and other levies the UK has the most expensive energy of any major EU or EEA economy. This is a significant burden for citizens and a serious disadvantage for the competitiveness of our industries and businesses. This has been illustrated most recently in the ongoing crisis in UK steel, where high energy prices have formed a key part of a wider crisis, which is threating to destroy this strategically vital industry.
The EU and the UK have recognised this problem and are currently cooperating to find a solution to high prices. As part of its flagship Energy Union Programme, the EU is looking to promote the creation of dozens of electricity interconnectors, which will run between EU Member States and/or EEA nations. These interconnectors will take surplus energy from producers in one member state and supply energy where it is need in another member state. This will reduce overcapacity and lower costs, while simultaneously creating thousands of high quality jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance. It could also mean that we can move energy produced by intermittent renewable energy sources more easily, so that when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining in one part of Europe, we can all feel the benefits of the energy produced.
Britain is currently set to be one of the main beneficiaries of this plan with up to 8 new interconnectors planned, including lines to Denmark, France, Ireland and Iceland amongst other. The North East is set to benefit directly, with a new interconnector running between Blyth and Norway, creating dozens of local jobs and helping the local economy.
However, with the referendum looming, if Britain leaves the EU, all of this could change.
Without the legal framework that EU provides, significant new rules will have to be created, to formally harmonise our electricity market to European Standards, which will take time, effort and money.
Additionally, we will have less influence. During the creation of the network we would not automatically have any say in many of the critical decisions, for example the creation of cross-border network codes, the rules which control how electricity is transferred through interconnectors.
All of this will also mean more uncertainty, which will put off potential investors, making financing these projects tougher and more costly.
Ultimately, it could mean more costly, or even less, interconnectors and therefore minimise the impact this initiative will have on energy prices.
UKIP, Tories and others who are pushing for Brexit, will argue that even if we leave the EU, we can still take advantage of the EU's energy network, just like the Norwegians currently do. However, they ignore the fact that Norway has developed its relationship with the EU over decades and has long harmonised its policy framework to fit with the EU's developments. The Norwegians, also still pay millions into EU programmes, but have a very limited say on the rules governing how their money is spent.
Interconnectors are not the be all and end all for the UK, but they do offer a wide range of benefits for citizens, government and businesses. We should not pretend that if we leave the EU, we will still have the same access to such advantages, with none of the costs. We will either lose this opportunity or have still have to pay, while having significantly less influence.