Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Will the "greenest government ever" preside over a 'blackout Britain'?

Before the election, the energy sector and the CBI by and large supported a policy programme that promised to "keep the lights on" and build a low carbon economy.

In five to ten years' time some current coal and nuclear power stations may have to be mothballed and there is now doubt that new nuclear power stations - which anyway would not be producing power for 15 years - will now be built, as Chris Huhne is known not to favour spending public money on them.

Add this to the cuts in both DECC's and Defra's budgets, and there is concern over a possible 'energy gap' looming.

The Energy Gap

“We need to explore alternative ways to combat this shortfall, such as building green oil power plants that  run off of sustainable oil, waste to energy systems that use all municipal solid waste (MSW) to generate electricity, which means there is no need for consumers to sort out their waste," said David Weaver, CEO of clean-tech company Ultra Green.
“These kinds of projects can be completed and producing power within five years. However, we need government support in the form of development grants and guarantees to accelerate the Britain’s renewables growth programme.”

We have already seen the loss of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP) grants which will adversely affect the renewable heat sector (see my previous blog post).

An energy efficiency drive will reduce the rate of increase in demand for electricity.

But the sector requires immediately huge input in research, development, infrastructure and plant to quickly evolve a low carbon energy supply mix that meets future demand and bridges the energy gap.

Furthermore, the Queen's Speech contains bills that could have a negative impact on the UK’s energy and environmental sector.

Planning issues

A Devolution and Localism Bill, which will give local councils more control, could affect onshore renewable energy projects, by giving more power to NIMBYs.

Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation, said, "This Bill would reverse years of creeping state control and return power to people, communities and councils."

But the vast majority of councils which have rejected wind farm planning applications across the country have historically been Tory held.

One commentator, Howard Thomas, said on a government website that the coalition policy on ensuring 'sustainable development’ in planning is too vague and requires clarity. He called for "a clause in planning policy statements that every new development must not increase global-warming emissions and should save on them".

Loss of support

There's also the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill, which promises to do the opposite to the Localism Bill - centralise power by abolishing, merging or transferring quangos back into Departments.

Cutting quangos like The Carbon Trust, The Technology Strategy Board and its Knowledge Transfer Networks, and WRAP could seriously affect low carbon delivery objectives.

This could result in the loss of support for emerging tender shoots of nascent low carbon technologies.

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