New carbon capture debate

18 March 2008

The announcement, which conforms to European Union plans to boost clean coal technology, was part of a speech Hutton gave backing the use of coal to help keep the country’s lights on.

Environmentalists were outraged at Hutton’s underscoring of the pro-coal stance which came the same day as a new government committee met for the first time tasked with tackling climate change.

“This just highlights the incoherence of government climate policy,” said Russell Marsh of the Green Alliance.

“On the very same day Chancellor Alistair Darling spoke of the importance of the new Climate Change Committee and the challenge of meeting UK emissions targets, his cabinet colleague John Hutton was voicing his support for new, unabated coal power stations,” he added.

The government has always said fossil fuels will have to play a part, along with new nuclear power plants and renewables like wind and waves, in the nation’s future energy mix.

It has also pointed to the increasing reliance on imported gas supplies as being a potential source of instability and noted that resorting to the world’s plentiful supplies of coal but using clean generation technology was unavoidable.

“Fossil fuels will continue to play an important role in ensuring the flexibility of the electricity generation system,” Hutton told the right-wing Adam Smith Institute.

“Electricity demand fluctuates continually, but the fluctuations can be very pronounced during winter, requiring rapid short-term increases in production.

“Neither wind nor nuclear can fulfil this role. We therefore will continue to need this back up from fossil fuels, with coal a key source of that flexibility,” he added.

Hutton said Britain would have to replace one-third of its electricity generating capacity over the next two decades.

The government has already declared its support for new nuclear power plants to replace if not expand the 19 percent of electricity it currently gets from its ageing fleet, all but one of which will be closed down within 15 years.

It is also pouring money into expanding offshore wind power, driven in part by its commitment to the European Union to get 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

The trouble, politically, stems from the fact that at the same time as endorsing fossil fuels the government is also pushing through a Climate Change law that will commit future governments to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn has said he will ask the Climate Change Committee created by the new law to see whether raising the target to 80 percent is necessary or feasible.

“When it comes to climate change, (Prime Minister) Gordon Brown’s government is behaving like Jekyll and Hyde,” said Greenpeace head John Sauven.

“On the one hand the Prime Minister accepts we can generate 40 percent of our electricity from renewables by 2020, plugging the energy gap and slashing emissions, then weeks later his Business Secretary sings the praises of coal, the most climate-wrecking form of power generation known to man.”


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