The Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, committed the government to replacing the UK’s coal-fired power stations with gas. But in a speech billed as an “energy policy reset” she made very few references to domestic shale gas.
The closure of coal generating stations by 2025 was welcomed by many, including the former US vice president, Al Gore. But environmental groups and campaigners accused Mrs Rudd of another dash for gas that would jeopardise the UK’s climate change targets.
The MP Caroline Lucas said the switch from coal to gas was like trying to go dry by switching from vodka to super strength cider. Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at Manchester University said the plan “sticks two fingers up” to the goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2 degrees. And Mrs Rudd’s predecessor, Ed Davey, said it was “dead on day 1”.
The speech this morning to the Institute of Civil Engineers ran to 4,449 words (link to transcript here). But the Energy Secretary said the word “shale” just three times and didn’t mention fracking once.
The first two references to shale followed an estimate that gas imports in 2030 could be as high as 75%. Mrs Rudd said:
“That’s why we’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports. There are also economic benefits in building a new industry for the country and for communities.”
“Our North Sea history means the UK is a home to world class oil and gas expertise, in Aberdeen and around the UK – we should build on that base so that our shale potential can be exploited safely.”
Later in the speech, she said:
“Nuclear power, gas-fired power stations and even shale gas emerged after years, sometimes decades of public support.”
[The latest public attitudes survey by Mrs Rudd’s department asked participants whether they supported or opposed different energy sources. Support for shale gas was 23%, nuclear was 36% and renewables 76%.]
Coal to gas
Mrs Rudd said gas and nuclear were central to what she called “our energy secure future”. Despite 20 years of action on climate change, 30% of UK electricity was generated from unabated coal, she said.
“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.”
The government will carry out a consultation in the spring on closing all unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025 and restrict the use of coal from 2023. But she added a condition:
“Let me be clear, we’ll only proceed if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.
[Data from DECC lists eight solely coal-fired power stations operated by major providers in the UK. Of these, the closure of Longannet and Eggborough have already been announced. Three other power stations (Ferrybridge, Drax and Fiddlers Ferry) are fuelled by coal and biomass. The closure of Ferrybridge has also been announced].
Mrs Rudd said:
“Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable.”
She said a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including Wylfa on Anglesey and Moorside, near Sellafield in Cumbria, could provide up to 30% of low carbon electricity needed through the 2030s and create 30,000 jobs.
“This will provide low carbon electricity at the scale we need. Climate change is a big problem, it needs big technologies.”
The Energy Secretary said the government would not support offshore wind “at any cost”.
“No more blank cheques. 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.”
But she gave no details of what the conditions were.
On climate change, she said the government was committed to meeting the UK’s target of reducing emissions in 2050 by 80% from 1990 levels. But Mrs Rudd said:
“We do need to meet that challenge, but we need be pragmatic too.”
Mrs Rudd added:
“We need to get the right balance between supporting new technologies and being tough on subsidies to keep bills as low as possible.
“We can only expect bill payers to support low carbon power, as long as costs are controlled.”
She said she inherited a department where “policy costs on bills had spiralled”.
“New, clean technologies will only be sustainable at the scale we need if they are cheap enough. When costs come down, as they have in onshore wind and solar, so should support.
“We have enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our 2020 expectations”, she said.
“That is why we set out in our manifesto that we would end any new public subsidy for onshore wind farms.”
Other key points
- Every home and small business in Britain will get a smart meter by the end of 2020.
- Consultation launched today on a strategy to maximise the economic recovery of the North Sea.
- Long-term plan to be set out next year to keep heating costs down for consumers.
- The government is committed to ensuring 1 million households benefit from energy efficiency improvements by the end of the parliament.
- The UK must become a centre for global nuclear innovation
Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, Manchester University
“The 5th carbon budget will be for hi[gh] chance of exceeding 2 degrees C. It’ll use an unfair allocation of a global CO2 budget to the UK & likely assume a high uptake of negative emissions technologies.”
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science
“It is a historic announcement by Amber Rudd that the UK will close down its remaining coal-fired power stations by 2025 if they are not equipped to stop greenhouse gases and other pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Coal power stations contribute to the air pollution that kills nearly 30,000 people in the UK each year, and millions of people around the world.”
“There is much logic in focusing subsidies for renewables on support for offshore wind capacity, which needs to expand to help replace coal power stations. Gas-fired power stations will have a role to play until the 2030s, and possibly beyond if they are equipped with carbon capture and storage technology, the development of which also needs strong Government support. The next big test for the Government is whether it will accept the advice, due to be published next week by the Committee on Climate Change, about the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget, which should set a target for annual emissions to be about 60 per cent lower in 2030 than in 1990.”
CLIMATE CHANGE CAMPAIGNERS
Simon Bullock, Friends of the Earth’s senior energy campaigner
“While it’s genuinely historic news that the UK will phase-out coal by 2025, this is tempered by government intentions for a huge new generation of gas-power stations, fuelled by fracking.
“UK energy policy should overwhelmingly be focussed on boosting renewable power and energy efficiency. Gas is too high-carbon for a long-term future.”
Former US Vice President Al Gore
“The decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to phase out the United Kingdom’s unabated coal power stations by 2025 sets an excellent and inspiring precedent as we head into COP21. With this announcement, the UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis. The UK has become the first major economy to set a clear date to phase out coal, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit as we repower the global economy with the clean energy we need for a sustainable future.”
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK Executive Director
“As the country that used coal to start the industrial revolution, it is right that we celebrate this historic moment as the UK becomes the first major economy to turn away from this deadly, polluting source of energy. Amber Rudd’s speech marks a welcome end for the use of coal. Now we must ensure that the government prioritises renewable energy to power the UK in the future. And in our role as a leader on the international stage, we must encourage global action on coal at the international climate talks.”
Rhian Kelly, environment director at the CBI
“With recent changes in energy policy, it’s vital the Government gives investors clarity on the direction of travel. The Secretary of State’s announcement is an encouraging sign that the Government is looking at ways to bolster our long-term energy future. As we move away from relying on coal for our energy supply, it’s important the right signals are in place for investors to build new gas-fired power stations – at present, they are hard to find. A smooth transition from coal to gas is critical, so we must ensure we have new capacity before we take coal out of the energy mix. Getting this right should deliver a successful energy policy that works for consumers, businesses and investors.”
EDF energy website
“While the carbon footprint of new gas-fired generating plant would be smaller than the existing coal-fired power stations, they could still be substantial. Early replacement could therefore lock the UK into higher-carbon generation for the lifetime of the new fossil-fuelled plants.”
RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive, Maf Smith, said:
“Onshore wind has already achieved the kind of cost reductions needed to be competitive and is now one of the cheapest sources of home-grown power in the UK. If we want to cut emissions and keep bills low, Government needs to show that it won’t stand in the way of subsidy free forms of power, like onshore wind, being able to access our energy market and compete head-to-head with options like nuclear and gas.”
UK Onshore Oil and Gas
UKOOG supports the creation of an energy mix that includes natural gas, nuclear and renewables. We now need to get on and appraise and develop the gas below our feet, in particular the huge resources of natural gas locked up in shale rock underlying the UK.
Steve Hawkes, political editor of The Sun
Jonathan Lake, environment editor at The Sunday Times
The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas
“This latest short-sighted announcement compounds the utter failure of this Government’s energy policy.
“Coal fired power stations are being shut down too slowly and, perversely, they’re being replaced by a new wave of high carbon gas power stations. This switch from coal to gas is like trying to go dry by switching from vodka to super strength cider – it entirely fails to seriously address the real challenge at hand.
“In the run up to the crucial Paris climate talks in December ministers are showing their true colours. Support for nuclear and gas is growing- while help for renewable energy firms, and the thousands of jobs they create, is being slashed.
“Investing in renewables and energy conservation would be far more effective economically, environmentally and in terms of energy security. We must begin weaning ourselves off gas as quickly as possible.”
Lisa Nandy, shadow energy secretary and Labour MP for Wigan:
“It’s been clear for years that Britain’s coal stations are so old and so polluting they would need to close over the next decade. Now we need to build new, cleaner power stations to take their place. Yet this government’s chopping and changing of energy policy is putting off the investment we urgently need to secure our power supplies.”
Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party
Edward Davey, former Energy and Climate Change Secretary
Updated 18/11/15 to correct typos and on 19/11/15 to include UKOOG quote