Gas Strategy “Dangerous Gamble”

I had a most refreshing evening at Portcullis House in Westminster this evening – apart from the fact that the Macmillan Room was overheated, so you couldn’t possibly deduce that energy conservation is intended to be part of the UK Government’s strategy, making an example with the public sector.

Tonight was the launch of the Greenpeace and WWF-UK report “A Study into the Economics of Gas and Offshore Wind“, which was commissioned from Cambridge Econometrics.

Professor Paul Ekins got up to speak and actually had the gall to declare the Government’s “Gas Strategy” to be a “dangerous gamble”. It was at this point that I took heart again – there are still some sane, rational people in the “national energy conversation”, even though Ekins did admit that he wasn’t sure that the “Gas Strategy” was an actual thing. Oh, but it is. All eighty pages of it.

Today was not the first time Professor Paul Ekins called out the Government on this, apparently, although I didn’t have a recollection of seeing the the mention in New Scientist before today.

Other highlights of the evening were provided by Laura Sandys MP naming her political opposition Alan Whitehead MP as the leader of a “parliamentary roadshow” on Energy and Climate Change, and questioning the use of the term “energy efficiency”. “It’s energy waste, guys”, she corrected and said we should be using that term instead of the “effete word efficiency”, and encouraged the energy waste prevention industry to get the rest of us engaged with their products.

A chap from Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) – I think it might have been Kevin MacLean – got up during questions from the floor, and almost begged for a long-term framework – a plan for renewable energy – a “binding framework” to encourage investment and “get costs down”.

It was pointed out during the evening, that, logically enough, that policy is important to energy futures, “if you have more certainty, you get more investment”. And there was encouragement to get Government Departments to think about this more. Yes, some subsidies and other forms of support are going to be needed to get the renewable energy revolution kickstarted, but “if [we] get benefits – isn’t that a price worth paying ?” The benefits outlined included potential for some small growth in the economy, around about 0.8% GDP, but good prospects for high value employment in depressed coastal towns where much of the offshore wind industry will host engineers, both for construction and ongoing operations and maintenance.

Laura Sandys MP was ashamed to say that she may no longer be able to claim she has the two largest offshore wind farms in her constituency – as progress is being made elsewhere.

Sarah Merrick from Vestas, the wind power engineering firm, emphasised that the economics of wind power stacks up and that it’s important to communicate this – despite the current dismissive media agenda – where she said it is important to defend the industry against certain media claims.

Lord Alan Haworth brought up the inevitable question of renewable energy intermittency – “days of dead calm and dark nights”. He raised the statistic that weather systems in Europe can cover 1,500 kilometres, so if wind power is down in the UK, it’s going to be down elsewhere in the EU electricity networks – the countries we have interconnectors with. What he didn’t elaborate on was this – just as the UK is beefing (and I don’t mean “up to 100% horsing about”) up its connections with the European electricity networks, so too, Europe as a whole is beginning to reach out with its networks to satellite countries. What that could mean is that even if wind-powered electrons in the UK take a dive, electrons could still appear in the power network from very far afield, and shunt power to the UK.

The speaker from the Crown Estate said that it was “sensible” to push for a good quantity of wind power – and that the report was a compelling argument. He regretted that it could not be guaranteed that the wind power-ed economy would necessarily have more of its supply chain in the UK – as various bodies have to comply with EU trade rules – but that there was a commitment in one part of the industry to 50% indigenous resourcing and employment (if I noted that down correctly).

Long-term policy clarity was espoused. Disappointment was expressed in the Coalition Government’s flip-flop about gas – emphasising the development of gas-powered electricity generation at the expense of projecting high levels of renewables (65%, says the report, is perfectly feasible) – and that it gave mixed messages – which weren’t helping investment decisions. Sarah Merrick repeated the E.On line that UK electricity should be “balanced by gas, not based on gas”, although she didn’t explain that they weren’t necessarily talking about wind power being the mainstay of new generation capacity.

It was generally agreed that David Cameron should lead and adopt the EU 2030 renewable energy targets – to enable billions of new confidence in the UK energy sector.

Not having a strong lead on renewable energy and energy waste reduction would be an “abdication of responsibility on the part of the policy-creating machine”. And, “even if shale gas does materialise”, it would not provide much stimulus.

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