Yesterday, I was on a panel for the launch event of the Centre for European Reform’s report on EU energy policy, Green, Safe, Cheap (see Centre for European Reform: Green, safe, cheap: Where next for EU energy policy?).
Charles Hendry, the UK minister for energy, was the main speaker. He is an effective and committed minister, and highlighted the importance of Europe on energy policy. Given this week’s Tory rebellion on Europe, it was reassuring to hear a Conservative minister saying something positive about the EU. It wasn’t surprising though – almost all Tories accept that climate and energy can’t be dealt with by one country acting alone, so a European forum is necessary.
Hendry emphasised that the UK remains committed to CCS, despite last week’s cancellation of the only remaining scheme in the first round of the CCS competition, Scottish Power’s Longannet. He said that it had been cancelled because the cost of upgrading Longannet – an old and inefficient station – to make it possible to retrofit post-combustion CCS had simply proved too great, but that the money would go instead to other CCS demonstrations. The UK has bid for grants from the European Investment Bank for CCS demonsration projects. (He could have pointed out that the seven bids from the UK outnumber the six from the rest of Europe – see The Guardian: Carbon capture in the UK is far from dead, thanks to European funding). And he noted that CCS does not face public opposition in the UK because the carbon dioxide will be stored under the sea rather than under people’s houses (which doesn’t make it unsafe, but does make it harder to win support for).
The UK should carry on developing CCS, since this would make it possible to burn coal and gas without destroying the climate. The failure of the first CCS competition was because the then (Labour) government restricted it to post-combustion on the grounds that this could be retrofitted, then allowed proposals for new power stations to join the competition, and took far too long making decisions. The current coalition government can learn from these mistakes and Charles Hendry seems quite prepared to do so.