19 November 2015: Well done Amber Rudd

The UK’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary gave her long-awaited ‘reset’ speech yesterday. She announced that all Britain’s coal power stations will close by 2025. Before the General Election prime minister David Cameron had joined the then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband in promising to end the use of unabated coal for power generation. (See http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/resources/Leaders_Joint_Climate_Change_Agreement.pdf). But this pledge did not say when coal stations would be closed, and political pledges are not always delivered. Now Rudd has delivered.

In the move away from coal, Britain is now one of three world leaders. We are vying for second place with the US, where the Obama administration has told the Environmental Protection Agency to implement an Emissions Performance Standard – a regulation limiting the amount of pollution permitted per unit of electricity generated – not only for new power stations but also for existing power stations. This will lead to the closure of many existing coal power stations, though there is no date for when the last one will close. The gold medal position in the coal exit belongs to the Canadian province of Ontario. In 2003 a quarter of Ontario’s electricity came from coal. Air pollution was a serious problem; the government had frequently to issue ‘smog advisories’ To improve air pollution, and also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Ontario adopted a plan in 2003 to phase out coal. In just over a decade, coal was eliminated.

The Ontario government achieved this by regulation:

Ontario enshrined its commitment in the Cessation of Coal Use Regulation (2007), which set an end date of December 31, 2014.” (See http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/archive/the-end-of-coal/ ).

In order to eliminate coal without the lights going out, Ontario used conservation and demand management, plus expanded nuclear and renewable energy capacity as follows:

  • Nuclear: +1,500 MW
  • Natural Gas: +5,500 MW
  • Non-Hydro Renewables: +5,500 MW.

Most of the new renewable capacity is wind and solar, so intermittent. Much of the new gas generating capacity is used as back up and peaking plant. The proportion of electricity coming from gas has actually decreased. Renewable electricity from non-hydro sources has grown from 0% to 7%. But the main factor in the elimination of coal has been the increase in nuclear power. Nuclear contributed 42% in 2003; it now contributes 60%.

Ontario: percentage share of total generation (2003)

Nuclear 42%
Coal 25%
Hydro 23%
Gas 11%

Ontario: percentage share of total generation (2014)

Nuclear 60%
Hydro 24%
Gas 9%
Non-Hydro Renewables 7%
Coal 0%

The UK should learn two lessons from Ontario. The government should accept that it is not necessary to have coal (or diesel – see http://climateanswers.info/2015/10/21-october-2015-dieselgate-ii-new-subsidies-for-dirty-diesel-generation/) as back up for intermittent renewables. NGOs should accept that the way to end coal as soon as possible is not nuclear or renewables, it is nuclear and renewables.

The British government supports both nuclear and renewables. The Conservatives do not support onshore wind, and are therefore ending subsidies to that technology. This is unfortunate, as onshore wind is the cheapest form of renewable power. But that’s democracy: a promise to end onshore wind subsidy was in the Tory manifesto, and they won. Rudd said yesterday that they will continue to support offshore wind, promising three new auctions for offshore wind Contracts for Difference before the next election, provided that costs continue to come down.

So, Rudd’s reset was excellent on coal, and good on nuclear and offshore wind. But it’s not quite three cheers yet, because there is too much enthusiasm for gas. Gas, including shale gas, is better than coal. But it is not good enough, in climate terms, unless it is fitted with carbon capture and storage. The UK has made no progress with CCS. (Indeed, the only large scale CCS plant in operation in the world is in another Canadian province, Saskatchewan.) There is much speculation that next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review will cancel or reduce the £1billion budget for CCS demonstrations in the UK. This would be a mistake. CCS is necessary for global climate protection because fossil fuels will continue to be used for many decades.

So it’s two-and-a-half cheers for Rudd for now. It may be three cheers after Chancellor George Osborne announces his Comprehensive Spending Review next week. Or it may not. But UK climate and energy policy are in significantly better shape this morning than they were yesterday morning.

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1 Comment

  1. Tarquin Henderson

    A good note Stephen. let’s hope there is some clear direction on renewables soon too – both heat and power. Whilst subsidies can never last forever, the market needs a clear and unambiguous signposts so it can appropriate action – price adjustments, funding models etc. But I agree in that last week’s announcements were a step in the right direction

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