Thursday, September 03, 2009

That dash for gas

Tony Lodge hits the Telegraph letters today under the heading: "Lack of strategic planning for energy policy means Britain is over-reliant on imported gas."

He points out that the prolonged lack of strategic planning on energy has allowed Britain to become overdependent on gas-fired power stations. No other kind of base-load power plant has been approved since 1997. One third of the gas we use, he writes, is now consumed in such power stations, exacerbating the run-down of our indigenous gas reserves from the North Sea, leading to overdependence on imports.

This will increase, as 90 percent of all proposed and ongoing power plant construction is gas fired.

Lodge argues that there is an obvious way out of this looming crisis. The Government must look towards an early derogation from the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive, which rules that we must close more than 12 gigawatts of older coal and oil plant by 2015. The Government should also support the fitting of new pre-combustion carbon capture and storage technologies, which can capture a large proportion of the pollutants from older plants.

He concludes that it is most unlikely that Britain's new fleet of nuclear power stations will be on line by 2020, so the answer must be to renegotiate the directive and support available but unpublicised technologies.

The point, of course, it that this over-reliance on gas is very dangerous – having enormous price implications, and a significant effect on our balance of payments.

Lodge is also right to cast doubt on the scheduling for new nuclear capacity, so the quick way out – to avoid having to build even more gas capacity – is to seek that derogation from the LCPD. The chances of Mr Cameron doing that, however, is slight.

That leaves "unpublicised technologies". Lodge is a fan of in-situ gasification of coal, which is an attractive proposition. To kick-start that technology, though, will require government support – and that cannot be forthcoming because it would fall foul of EU state aid rules.

Every which way we look, the dead hand of the EU limits our options – the result of which is that we will have to pay until we bleed for our electricity. Yet, as Lodge points out, there is a way out. The problem is that neither this nor the next administration is likely to take it. We are doomed to poverty.