Gas may dash carbon budgets

12th October 2012


Gas

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IEMA

The UK will fail to meet its carbon budgets and its 2050 carbon reduction target if the government pursues a policy of gas-fired electricity generation, says the committee on climate change (CCC)

The CCC's warning came in a letter to the prime minister and the energy secretary and followed a recent government statement that it "sees gas as continuing to play an important role in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030 ... [not] restricted to providing back-up to renewables”.

The committee says the government’s stance is incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets.

It also warns that the government’s position could undermine investment in low-carbon generation.

“The apparently ambivalent position of the government about whether it is trying to build a low-carbon or a gas-based power system weakens the signal provided by the carbon budgets to investors,” says the CCC. The committee claims investors already regard the climate for low-carbon generation as very poor.

To address the risk that investors will shun low-carbon technologies, the CCC, which recently appointed Lord Deben as its new chair, wants the government to include a carbon-intensity target for the power sector in the planned electricity market reform (EMR). It recommends that carbon intensity is limited to 50gCO2 per kWh by 2030.

In a separate letter to the government, the Aldersgate Group also demands a carbon intensity target for the sector, claiming it would provide investors with long-term clarity and certainty, and ensure the UK meets its carbon budgets.

“We must put an end to any political uncertainty surrounding the UK’s energy future and start unleashing the billions of pounds of overdue investment which will deliver new growth for our economy,” said the group’s chair, Peter Young.

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey responded to the CCC letter by confirming that the government was considering an electricity decarbonisation target, but claimed the EMR would create significant decarbonisation without including such a specific target.

He also said that the government continues to see gas as important in the transition to a low-carbon electricity supply. “We need a diverse mix of all the technologies to keep the lights on and lower our emissions [and] we have always said this will include gas-fired plant,” he said. “After 2030 we expect that gas will increasingly be used only as back-up, or fitted with carbon capture and storage.”

The disagreement between the government and the CCC came as the energy secretary told the Guardian that 20 new gas-fired power stations will be built in the UK by 2030.

At the same time, new energy minister John Hayes officially opened one of Europe’s largest gas-fired power stations, a 2,000MW plant in Pembrokeshire, and energy company ESB confirmed it is to build an 880MW gas-powered plant outside Manchester, which will open in 2016.

Meanwhile, a new study has again highlighted the potential risks to the environment from extracting gas from unconventional sources, such as shale gas. The study, for the European Commission, claims there is high risk that shale gas extraction in Europe will contaminate both groundwater and surface water, and pose risks to biodiversity.

The report states that the gas exploration industry faces a challenge to ensure the integrity of wells and other equipment throughout the life cycle of a project and beyond to avoid the risk of water contamination.

The study also warns that spillages of chemicals and wastewater with potential environmental consequences must be avoided during the development and operational lifetime of an exploration site.

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