The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has written to the UK government warning that moving towards extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity would be in breach of legally binding carbon budgets.
In an open letter to Energy Secretary Ed Davey and the leadership of the Coalition, the signatories express “great concern” over a recent government statement that gas will continue to play “an important role in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030”.
Earlier this week, in a statement defending the forthcoming Energy Bill, Davey himself commented:
“Gas is a key part of our energy economy, and will remain so for the foreseeable future… We see a clear role for gas in the medium term, not just providing backup electricity, but baseload too.”
But the CCC warns that use of unabated gas-fired capacity without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would be “incompatible” with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets up to 2050 and “could not form the basis of government policy”.
The letter agrees with Davey that there is a role for gas in the medium term, including the use of the UK’s own gas reserves, primarily for heating buildings and in industry, which has been factored into current carbon budgets.
But the government’s “ambivalent” position on whether it wishes to support the building of a low-carbon or gas-based energy system is putting off investors.
“The cases for low-carbon business development, capital allocation, innovation and supply chain investment are undermined, damaging prospects for required low-carbon investments,” cautions the letter.
The letter, which is signed by the new chair of the Committee Lord Deben, along with chief executive David Kennedy, Dame Julia King, Lord Krebs and Lord May, calls on the government to set a clear carbon objective – such as 50g CO2/kWh by 2030 – in the forthcoming Electricity Market Reform legislation.
In response, Davey has issued a statement saying the government is “absolutely committed” to meeting its carbon budgets and is considering a 2030 “electricity decarbonisation” target.
But he defended the government’s position on gas-fired capacity, saying:
“We have always said this will include gas fired plant, which is quick to build and flexible. A fifth of our power stations are closing over the next decade and we need to build a diverse mix of all the technologies to keep the lights on and lower our emissions.”
His statement admitted, however, that only after 2030 would gas be “increasingly” fitted with CCS or used only for back up.
Lord Deben’s first act as chair of the Committee has been widely welcomed by environmental groups and renewables advocates.
“This is a very stark warning the government cannot ignore: an unabated dash for gas is incompatible with tackling climate change and threatens the UK's growing green economy, which already employs almost one million people,” says Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth.
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association also hailed the letter as “important”.
“Gas can be a friend of renewables, if used strategically to support the transition to a low-carbon future. That is the approach we would like to see in the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s forthcoming gas strategy,” she added.
For further information:
UK Energy Secretary defends Energy Bill against “myths” (12-Sept)
UK cabinet reshuffle casts doubt on “greenest government” pledge (5-Sept)
UK Energy Bill will deter investment and add costs, warns committee (23-Jul)
UK Energy Secretary gives gas a boost (20-Mar)
14 September 2012