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Energy short-cuts spell danger

Two reports published today highlight the growing and acute dangers of leaving New Labour in charge of Britain’s energy future.

Firstly, a damning report from Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee says the government risks locking Britain into high levels of carbon emissions for decades to come, if it permits new coal-fired power stations to be built before technology to capture and store carbon (CCS) is available.

The committee says there is no guarantee that a plant approved on this basis would actually be willing or able to retrofit CCS even once the technology had been demonstrated on a commercial scale. This would depend on the price of carbon at the time. “Without a deadline for the retrofitting of CCS, the Committee believes that planning permission granted on the condition of CCS readiness is meaningless,” the report says.

It calls on the government to set a date by which emissions from all power stations will have to reach a particular standard or face closure. “By setting such a deadline and making its intentions clear the Government will send a vital signal to the power generation industry about the future of coal and the importance of developing and retrofitting carbon capture and storage.” And they continue: “Coal must be seen as a last resort, and the possibility of CCS technology must not be used as a fig leaf to give unabated coal-fired power stations an appearance of acceptability.”

And in a second report, the government has effectively admitted that the main purpose of its new Planning Bill is to short-circuit and circumvent local opposition to new nuclear power stations. It has set out draft criteria for siting proposed nuclear plants, which will be finalised by the beginning of next year. At that point, developers will be invited to nominate sites that meet the criteria, and “in 2010, a National Policy Statement will be published which would include a list of the sites assessed as strategically suitable for building new power stations”.

The criteria state:

“Subject to Parliamentary approval of the Planning Bill, this would in turn guide the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission in dealing with specific planning applications on those sites. It will be the Infrastructure Planning Commission that would decide on applications from developers. If approval is given, it is expected that construction of new nuclear power stations could begin in 2013-2014, in time for producing energy from 2017-2020.”

For anyone not clear about what this means (including the majority of Labour MPs who caved in at the last minute to enable the Planning Bill to be passed) the legislation will speed up the process of granting permission for new nuclear power stations dramatically. It will prevent the public from effectively opposing them, and by setting up the “independent” Infrastructure Planning Commission, prevent the public from putting pressure on local and national politicians.

All of this makes clear that Britain’s alternative energy future is looking very like its energy past – which has led to a situation where the UK has never once met any target for emissions reductions – and ensuring that it will not do so in the future.

Even though the Stern Report clearly stated that global warming was a result of “market failure”, the government’s only policy for energy is to sustain the profitability of the existing energy market. It has no plans to deal with climate change by investing in energy efficiency, improved public transport, or alternative energy sources. Another case of New Labour isn’t working.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
23 July 2008

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