Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The fluffy budget show

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory coal gasification demonstration plant at the Rocky Mountain Test Facility near Hanna, Wyoming. This is part of the technology which will be used in the UK for the modern equivalent of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, wasting money faster than George Osborne can collect it.

Today, I am told, is Budget Day, when the preposterous George Osborne is going to tell us how our administration is going to screw us this year. There will be some changes around the margins, and some people might end up being slightly less screwed than they have been, while others will suffer more.

As such, the actual budget speech has largely become a media event, missing from which will be any serious indication that Osborne and his merry little men have any grip at all on our public finances. And those who need an illustration of this need look no further than the Proverbs 26:11 type situation with carbon capture, where £1 billion of our money is poised to make its final nose-dive to oblivion.

This follows only too quickly the NAO Report which complains that £64 million has already been wasted on the modern equivalent of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers but, having already entertained one disaster, DECC is now preparing for a repeat.

However, this time, rather than see an attempt to retro-fit an the National Grid and gas services firm Petrofac teaming up with a US partner, Summit Power. The group is planning a new coal-fired power plant, named Caledonia Clean Energy Project, based at the Scottish port of Grangemouth. And this time, the project will rely on coal gasification.

In order to bid for our money, the plan is to use technology developed for the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP), in which "syngas" is produced from coal. This is then further processed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide, the latter being separated – pre-combustion, as far as I can gather – with the hydrogen then being used to power a turbine.

What makes one deeply suspicious is the paucity of data on energy losses for the system, compared with high-efficiency supercritical coal plants, which themselves could deliver up to 40 percent cuts in emissions, compared with existing plants – while needing no taxpayer subsidy.

Unfortunately, the only site at which that technology was on offer – Kingsnorth – is now to be closed down, leaving the Caledonia Clean Energy Project as the only game in town, when it comes to the continued use of coal. Over term, this is going to cost us countless billions, with a direct impact on our pockets far greater than anything the preposterous Osborne is going to do later today.

If the man masquerading as our chancellor really wanted to do something to kick-start the economy, he could dump the Climate Change Act. and all that goes with it. But he can't do that, any more than he can stop £1 billion being spent on this fatuous scheme.

Such is the nature of the media circus, though, and the triviality of its coverage – together with the administration's ability to set the agenda – that the news headlines today (and tomorrow) will be dominated by budget fluff, while our wealth pours down the drain virtually unrecorded.

And, hard though it is to believe, very few people will even notice, preferring as they do the soap opera to the cold wind of reality .