MPs warn dash for gas won't cut CO2

26th October 2011

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Government plans to reform the electricity market could lock the country into a more carbon-intensive supply in the long run, says to Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC).

In its latest report into the security of the UK’s future energy supply, the committee warns the proposed emissions performance standard (EPS) will result in a “hectic dash for gas… [that] could pose a severe threat to the achievement of long-term climate change goals.”
The report labels the government’s proposals for the standard as “weak”, arguing its requirement that new gas-fired power stations are only carbon capture ready, coupled with the “grandfathering” principle – which exempts plants built before 2015 from subsequent tightening of emissions performance targets for 20 years – could seriously hamper its aim of decarbonisation.

According to figures in the report, new gas-powered stations produce 400 grammes of CO2 for every kWh of electricity they generate, while this is below the 450gCO2/kWh requirement for coal-powered stations under the EPS, it is eight times more than Committee on Climate Change says the sector should be producing by 2030, if the UK is to meet carbon reduction goals.

Under the proposals, the ECCC warns, an unabated gas-power plant built in 2014 could continue to operate unchanged until 2034, with the government unable to force companies to install carbon capture and storage (CSS) facilities.

The report also argues that this approach represents a “huge gamble” on the development of cost-effective CCS technology for gas plants.

DECC needs to think through the implications of its EPS proposals more carefully,” stated the report. “Changing the rules after the fact to avoid a dash-for-gas will undermine investor confidence in the UK so it is essential to get the EPS right from the start.”

The ECCC recommends the EPS is designed to consider emissions performance levels beyond 2015 in line with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change and the UK’s carbon budgets or alternatively to set a date by which CCS would be expected on all large coal- and gas-fired stations.

“The government should draw up plans immediately for how the tension between climate and security goals will be dealt with if CCS is not delivered by 2020,” concludes the report.

“We recommend the government asks the Committee on Climate Change to investigate – as a matter of urgency – the implications on long-term climate objectives of having large quantities of unabated gas plant on the system during the 2020s.”

The committee argues the impact of a dash to gas must be included in a future energy security strategy, which must also tackle improving the UK’s capacity to store gas, increased energy efficiency and a more agile energy network that uses smart technology to better respond to changes in demand.

“To keep the lights on and our transport moving we need a diverse energy portfolio that does not rely too heavily on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world or any one single technology at home,” said Tim Yeo, chair of the committee.

“Encouraging investment in gas storage and insulating more homes will improve our position and help to reduce the impact of rising global energy price rises.”

However, he warned the government could be doing a lot more to reduce the amount of energy wasted by households and businesses.

“The government needs to look at how it can use building regulations and energy efficiency standards for electrical appliances to cut waste and save cash on people's energy bills,” he said.

Responding to the report, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) said investment in a smarter grid will help to provide the information needed by individuals and organisations to improve their energy efficiency.

“An independent report by Imperial College has shown that an integrated smarter network can save £16 billion of infrastructure investment,” said ENA chief executive David Smith.

“If we can realise the full potential of such advances in technology then we will not only deliver energy efficiency and reduction but greater affordability and security of supply.”


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