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Government announces new direction for UK energy policy

18 November 2015

Energy and Climate Change secretary Amber Rudd has revealed the government's energy policy priorities and the proposed strategy for putting them into action.

Image: Shutterstock

“We now have an electricity system where no form of power generation, not even gas-fired power stations, can be built without government intervention, and a legacy of ageing, often unreliable plant," says energy secretary, Amber Rudd on the challenges facing the UK's energy system.

“Perversely, even with the huge growth in renewables, our dependence on coal - the dirtiest fossil fuel – hasn’t been reduced. Indeed a higher proportion of our electricity came from coal in 2014 than in 1999. So despite intervention we still haven’t found the right balance.”

The energy secretary has signalled her intention to develop a cleaner, more secure energy network by consulting on closing coal fired power stations by 2025.

“One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal fired power stations with gas," she says. “I am pleased to announce that we will be launching a consultation in the spring on when to close all unabated coal-fired power stations.

“Our consultation will set out proposals to close coal by 2025 - and restrict its use from 2023. If we take this step, we will be one of the first developed countries to deliver on a commitment to take coal off the system. But let me be clear, we’ll only proceed if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales."

She also explained that nuclear power had a central role in the UK’s energy future:

“Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable. The challenge, as with other low carbon technologies, is to deliver nuclear power which is low cost as well. Green energy must be cheap energy. We are dealing with a legacy of under-investment and with Hinkley Point C planning to start generating in the mid-2020s, this is already changing.

“It is imperative we do not make the mistakes of the past and just build one nuclear power station. There are plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa and Moorside. It also means exploring new opportunities like Small Modular Reactors, which hold the promise of low cost, low carbon energy.”

Amber Rudd went on to commit government support for offshore wind on the condition that it comes down in cost:

“We should also support the growth of our world leading offshore wind industry. Today I can announce that – if, and only if, the government’s conditions on cost reduction are met – we will make funding available for three auctions in this Parliament. We intend to hold the first of these auctions by the end of 2016. On current plans we expect to see 10GW of offshore wind installed by 2020.

“The industry tells us they can meet that challenge, and we will hold them to it. If they don’t there will be no subsidy. No more blank cheques.”

The Government is also committed to taking action on climate change and to meeting the UK’s 2050 target, looking ahead to the conference in Paris in December where an international deal is expected to be agreed.

“Action on climate change is linked to the action we’re taking now to reduce the deficit," says Ms Rudd. "It is about resilience now and in the future. But climate change is a global problem, not a local one. Action by one state will not solve the problem. It’s what we do together that counts. And that is why achieving a global deal in Paris next month is so important.

“But climate change will not be solved by a group of over-tired politicians and negotiators in a Conference centre. It will take action by businesses, civil society, cities, regions and countries.

“Paris must deliver that and help unleash the levels of private investment needed. Our most important task is providing a compelling example to the rest of the world of how to cut carbon while controlling costs.”

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the announcement that all traditional coal-fired power plants will close by 2025 was expected but is a positive move.

"However, although gas produces about half the amount of carbon emissions than coal, we should not look at building more gas power plants as a silver bullet solution to creating a secure, affordable and clean energy system," she says. "Increasing demand for natural gas will lead to other ‘difficult’ challenges in securing the gas network in the UK.  This may include more imports and potentially greater use of shale gas.

“Nuclear power generation has a role to play, as this does not generate any direct carbon emissions at all, but does require significant investment into the safe and environmental management of whole cycle of nuclear fuel.  The UK should be seen as a nation leading the development of a low carbon energy system for the future and to achieve this we need to invest much more into Research & Development of new generation of renewables and other low carbon energy.

“As we lose large infrastructure in the UK, the capital and human resources associated with these sites are often lost too.  Reusing current connections to the grid and retaining the engineering expertise in the region where coal fired power stations are closing, will help to retain skills and economic growth in those regions.  The process of redeveloping sites takes longer, but reduces excessive use of land for infrastructure and associated environmental impacts and supports industrial communities.

“Although today’s announcement provides some clarity for investors, there is still no clear roadmap for how the UK will meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets especially leading up to United Nations meeting on Climate Change (COP21) in December. The cheapest options for energy still remain the options that produce carbon emissions, like gas.

"The unfortunate reality is that by reducing spending, due to public sector cuts, it is likely to mean increasing emissions.

“We cannot allow the market alone to drive energy options, following this path means that we could end up with the worst case scenario in terms of pollution.”

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