The Government is to halt the dash for gas due to pressure to reduce carbon dioxide targets
The UK’s “dash for gas” will be halted by the government because if unchecked it would break legally binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions,” said Chris Huhne, energy and climate change secretary.
“We will not consent so much gas plant so as to endanger our carbon dioxide goals,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats party conference in Birmingham.
According to The Guardian the number of gas-fuelled power plants is increasing rapidly because they are fast and cheap to build compared with alternatives. They also create about half the carbon emissions of coal-powered plants and have been seen as a “transition fuel”, helping smooth the path to zero-carbon electricity.
Barry Neville, director of public affairs at Centrica, which owns British Gas, said: “Gas is a critical part of the fuel mix, it’s a transition fuel. At this moment in time it is crucial to the UK, as is nuclear and as are renewables.
But climate change campaigners have warned that too much gas capacity is being built, meaning either the carbon budgets intended to help tackle global warming would be broken, or the gas plants would be left as stranded assets.
“The secretary of state’s statement is a welcome recognition by the government that there are constraints on the deployment of gas as a climate-effective solution to our future energy needs,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF UK. “The government should be looking at the deployment of renewables, that already must be at 30% by 2020, at increasing rates during the 2020s.”
But David Porter, chief executive of the Association of Electricity Producers, said: “Electricity produced from gas is important for security of electricity supply. Gas-fired power stations offer flexible, reliable electricity, which is vital as we increase our renewable electricity production and prepare for new nuclear power. Unabated gas will play an important role in the transition to a low carbon electricity industry. We must keep the lights on and do so cost-effectively. That means providing clarity for investors - we are not quite there yet.”
In 2010, there was about 27 gigawatts of gas power capacity in the UK, with 4GW of new plant under construction, and 8 GW having been given planning permission. The installed capacity of all types of electricity generation is 75GW. In 2018, National Grid predicts there will be around 45 GW of gas plant on the system.
An analysis by the Green Alliance in June of the consequences of the dash for gas, showed that even if 4GW of planned capacity was never built by 2030,16GW of gas capacity would still be “stranded” – built at a capital cost of £10bn but not used for its planned lifespan because of the need to meet carbon targets. In that scenario, 8GW of the capacity in use would require carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) to be fitted to meet carbon targets. The coalition government has committed to building demonstration plants to develop CCS, but no contracts have yet been awarded.
Huhne said he saw a potentially large role for gas power plants fitted with CCS. “If the gas price tends towards that in the US, I would expect to see lots of abated gas. It could be the cheapest form of low-carbon energy.” Some in the energy industry have criticised the lack of certainty over which technologies would be backed by government through its electricity market reforms. But Huhne said: “It is essential to have the ability to bend and respond” to both changes in the costs of low-carbon technologies and the gas price.
Gas prices have risen sharply for UK household in recent months and on Monday Huhne pledged to make it easier for consumers to get a better deal from the “big six” energy companies that deliver 99% of the UK’s electricity.
But globally gas price rises have been curbed by increasing supplies of unconventional gas, driven from shale by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Exploration has begun in the UK near Blackpool in Lancashire and has attracted protests but Huhne said no new regulation of fracking was needed, despite controversies about its safety elsewhere.
“I recommend you look at the film Gasland, which is a bit of a wake-up call,” Huhne said. “There are some extremely alarming pictures of people setting fire to their taps because of methane gas bubbling up.”
He said the problem in US was because gas fracking had been exempted from clean water regulations by the then vice president Dick Cheney. “We have not exempted fracking from any environmental regulations in this country and we do not intend to. I am confident that our environmental regulations are strong,” he said.