By 2025 the remaining UK coal-fired power stations are to be shut, and by 2023 restricted (currently coal provides 28% of the UK’s electricity). The government’s new energy strategy is welcomed by some, however there is still criticism with regards to the closure of renewable subsidy schemes for wind and solar, as Ms Rudd believe that the renewables budget had been “way overspent”. The new direction for energy policy will be directed on new gas-fired power stations that will be built over the next 10 years. In the light of the recent negotiations between China and the UK in terms of new nuclear investments (Wylfa Wales and Moorside Cumbria), new nuclear power stations are vital to the government’s policy – they could provide up to a third of low carbon electricity throughout the UK in the next decade. The statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change clearly show that the UK remains reliant on fossil fuels for 60% of its electricity and a total of 85% of its total energy needs. 60% does not look promising if the UK would like to become a near-zero carbon economy as it has been planning.
The announcement comes at a time ahead of the UN Climate summit in Paris, sending a strong message to the participants that the world’s first industrialised nation will end its coal-powered industry. The international signal is strong as well as national with concerns raised about the costs consumers will face transforming the energy system. The government must work strongly in order to secure investors for the new gas plants as only one large plant is under construction today with the other only granted subsidy.
Some have gone to the lengths of comparing the plan to the version of Margaret Thatcher’s energy policy, claiming that not only will the replacement of new gas-fired power stations lock the UK into a high-carbon system but moreover it will make it almost impossible for the UK to meet its climate targets. It seems that energy security is securing its position over green energy at all costs.
Alexander Thomas, GradEl
Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the new Labour party leader on Saturday after winning 59.5% of the vote. The candidates’ view on energy and climate change varied during the run-up to the vote. Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham were the only two candidates to have released a manifesto. Jeremy Corbyn in detail outlined his view on climate and energy policies (stating that once again Britain can lead an energy revolution), whereas Andy Burnham approached the issues from an environmental perspective referring to the debate over renewable energy and fracking. All in all, all of the four candidates, including Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, have never held a climate-related position in the government to date.
On Monday he appointed Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, as shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change. She acknowledges the fact that UK is in need for new options to safeguard UK’s energy security but she is not convinced that shale gas is the best solution (this comes after a quarter of Wigan borough could be subjected to frack testing in the next several years). What has stirred up great debate within the Labour party are ways of tackling climate change. Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestions to reopen coal mines in South Wales – despite stating that fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. He believes that clean burn technology along with the possibility of coal prices increasing in the years to come around the world should convince the people and the Government to re-open the last deep coal mines in South Wales.
EY’s quarterly report ‘Renewable energy country attractiveness index’ published on Wednesday openly stated that the Conservative government has not only created uncertainty surrounding the future of renewables in the UK but also ‘sentenced the renewable energy sector to death.’ The report blames the unexpected and recent energy policy revisions as a cause of fall in the index standings (the UK is now rated 11th a fall of three places from last quarterly report). Despite a negative approach to the Conservative’s vision of renewable energy (cuts to subsidies for solar and ending onshore wind farm support) their growing appetite for shale gas fracking is lively.
Putting politics aside, in the long term the future has to be in renewables and low carbon. Gas has to be part of the UK energy mix for the next 30 – 40 years. The question regarding what type of gas: LNG (shipped from Qatar) or shale gas can be brought down to one simple question: which solution carries the smallest carbon footprint, domestic production or shipping? While developing shale gas the government has to invest in carbon capture and storage for gas fired power plants and more importantly it must deploy the revenue that it gets from the energy related taxes and royalties on a shale gas industry and deploy them into new technology, renewables and innovation in the field of new renewables.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have to start making decisions and approach the future of the UK energy mix based on facts and evidence – not just on emotions.