Tory group argues for early end to coal

8th June 2016

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Jon Treacher

Coal-fired power stations should be phased out by at least 2023, according to a liberal Conservative think tank.

Bright Blue, which in April launched a green conservatism movement led by former energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, has published research showing the government could phase out all of the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations much earlier than currently planned without harming security of supply.

The report follows concerns that the closure of coal-fired power stations by 2025, which was announced by energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd in November, would increase the risk of energy shortages.

Bright Blue commissioned Aurora Energy Research to investigate energy security according to varying predictions for future energy capacity. Researchers looked at the impact of renewables, nuclear and interconnection capacity rising in line with expectations, as well as exceeding and underperforming them.

They found that security of supply would not be undermined under any of the three scenarios, and that each would provide plenty of time to commission new gas-fired capacity.

According to the think-tank's report, the simplest way to implement the phase-out would be through an emissions performance standard to cap the amount of CO2 new fossil fuel power stations can emit.

The phase-out date should be brought forward to at least 2023 to give investors certainty, particularly those planning new gas capacity, it added. Rudd’s announcement last year suggested a 2023 phase-out would be possible as long as there was enough gas capacity to fill any gaps in supply.

The think-tank also advised the government to develop an alternative energy strategy if the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is not built. This should be based on renewable technologies filling the capacity gap, as they can be built far faster than other energy sources.

The UK should also promote coal phase-out internationally, and could provide significant technical and moral leadership if it encourages other countries to follow it, the group said.

Author of the report and associate fellow of Bright Blue, Ben Caldecott, said: ‘Despite what some exaggerated claims suggest, coal phase out even under a “high stress” scenario will not result in the lights going out.’

Encouraging renewables, interconnection, storage, demand-side response and energy efficiency would bring significant benefits in strengthening energy security and cutting pollution, he added.

The recommendations came as a report by the renewables industry revealed strong growth for the sector in 2015. The Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) annual review shows that employment in the sector reached record levels last year, with a total of 116,788 employees in the sector in 2014/15, an increase of nearly 5,000 people.

It said the total value of renewable heat, power and transport increased by £982 million, to £15,913 million. This represents a growth rate of 6.6%, slightly higher than the 6.1% that occurred from 2012/13 to 2013/14 and compares with growth in the rest of the UK economy of 2.5%.

Renewable energy supplied the UK with 22.3% of its power and 3.2% of transport fuels in 2015, and 4.6% of its heat in 2014, the association said.

However, the REA warned that the policy interventions over the past 12 months would threaten progress in 2016. The government urgently needs new policies, particularly in heat and transport, to ensure it meets its 2020 renewable energy targets, it warned.

Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the REA, said: ‘The industry was blindsided this year with over a dozen sudden and severe policy changes, which we expect will be reflected in next year’s report. While many businesses have been left reeling and deployment has begun to slow, as an industry we will persevere, we will innovate, and we will continue to grow.’

Meanwhile, analysis by Carbon Brief of UK energy records for May revealed that solar PV generated an estimated 1,336GWh of electricity, 50% more than the 893GWh output from coal – the first calendar month to pass this milestone.

In Scotland, there was enough sunshine in May to generate 100% of an average household’s hot water needs in Aberdeen and Dundee, according to analysis by WWF of data from WeatherEnergy, a European-funded project to help the public better understand the nation’s energy resource.

Wind turbines provided enough electricity to supply 36% of power for Scottish homes, businesses and industry throughout May the data revealed.


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