The Committee on Climate Change's attack on government gas policy - the context
- 13 Sep 2012, 13:00
- Robin Webster
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - the government's
advisory body on climate targets - has today released a strongly
worded letter criticising the government's "apparently ambivalent
position" and "mixed messages" on energy policy. Specifically, the
CCC expresses "great concern" that the proposed expansion of
gas-fired power is incompatible with the UK's carbon targets.
The open letter from the
members of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is pretty
forthright. It begins:
"We are writing to express the great
concern of the Committee on Climate Change about the recent
Government statement "that it sees gas as continuing to play an
important role in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030...[not]
restricted to providing back up to renewables".
In July, it became clear that there was a major
row going on behind the scenes in government over energy policy
- with George Osborne and the Treasury pushing for the UK to become
hub for gas investors and the Lib Dems resisting, on the basis
that it will threaten our climate change targets.
government then announced that it sees gas "continuing to play
an important part in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030,
while meeting our carbon budgets."
There could well be a contradiction between a significant
expansion of gas power and the government's plans for reducing
carbon emissions - an issue we raised with Ed Davey at the press
conference in July. Davey told us that there was no problem,
and that we should go and do our
homework, referring to a piece of government modelling that he
suggested would solve the puzzle. Unfortunately, it turned out that
the government hasn't made the modelling public, and isn't planning
The CCC clearly isn't convinced about the government's plans,
"Extensive use of unabated gas-fired
capacity (i.e. without carbon capture and storage technology (CCS))
in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated
carbon budgets...Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not
form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the
Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the
The letter - which is worth
reading in full - is followed by an Appendix detailing the
modelling which underpins the CCC's view that "deep cuts in power
sector emissions will be required to meet the 2050 [greenhouse gas
emissions] target". It adds:
"Without significant cuts, power sector
emissions would account for almost all of the allowed emissions
under the 2050 target..."
Gas - cheap or expensive?
The Appendix to the letter also deconstructs the argument that
gas power is needed because it is cheap, and renewably generated
power is expensive. According to the CCC, by the mid 2020s
"...use of unabated gas-fired generation
rather than cost- effective low-carbon generation would
significantly increase system costs … Even in an extremely unlikely
case where the gas price in the EU falls to the level in the US …
there is negligible benefit switching from cost-effective
low-carbon generation to unabated gas-fired generation".
And they illustrate this with the following figure, showing the
predicted cost saving from expanding low-carbon technologies rather
Mixed messages and the 2030 target
The Committee on Climate Change has
expressed its view on this before, but perhaps rather less
firmly. In today's letter, it makes a series of clear statements
about the impact on investment in low-carbon technology of "...the
apparently ambivalent position of the Government" about what kind
of energy system it wants to build. It argues:
"As a result, the cases for low-carbon
business development, capital allocation, innovation and supply
chain investment are undermined, damaging prospects for required
low-carbon investments. This has been made clear to us in our
extensive discussions with the energy and supply chain companies
The CCC'S recommended solution which they have been arguing for
2008 is that government should set:
"...a clear carbon objective … to reduce
carbon intensity of power generation to around 50 gCO2 / kWh by
2030 … with a reference to this in the next draft of the Energy
This would roughly equate to decarbonising the power sector, and
Osborne is strongly
opposed to setting such a target.
DECC's response - and the politics
It's likely that this has set the stage for a political battle
which will play out this Autumn as the Energy Bill is debated. The
Lib Dems are - rightly or wrongly - seen as the defenders of a 2030
carbon intensity target. But as the IPPR's Will Straw observes on
website Left Foot Forward, Davey's
recent defence of the bill is silent on the government's plans
for the expansion of gas-fired power stations and what they mean
for the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.
DECC has responded to the CCC in a statement, saying "We are
currently considering a 2030 electricity decarbonisation target"
and "our existing plans are consistent with significant
decarbonisation of the power sector" and "We are absolutely
committed to meeting our statutory carbon budgets."
It also says:
"After 2030 we expect that gas will only
be used as back up, or fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage
The question is - if more gas is built - whether CCS will swoop
in and save the day, or whether gas without CCS will form a major
part of our energy system after 2030, which is what a lot of
informed opinion seems to think is going to happen.
BusinessGreen argues that the CCC letter is a "major blow" to
George Osborne's plans with "the potential to spark a major
political row between the Lib Dems and Osborne". It remains to be
seen whether this happens - but the CCC's statement makes it pretty
clear what it is that the opposing camps in the coalition
government are likely to be fighting over.