Government’s energy plans look very difficult to achieve

Contributors to the UK Energy Policy have stated that amongst other stated aims, the Government’s promise to meet 10% of the nation’s energy requirement by 2010 looks unlikely to be fulfilled without certain legislative changes.

At an informal discussion concerning the progress of the UK Energy Policy Review announced this summer (see related story) in London on 29 October, Martin Head, Deputy Head of the governmental Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), undertaking the review, said that from submissions already received the target looks “very hard” to meet, and that changes were necessary to the UK planning process to achieve the Government’s promise to supply 10% of the nation’s energy from renewables in 2010. Among the possible changes mentioned were the possibility of less nimbyism and more of a focus on the national need in planning decisions, more openness of debates with the construction industry, and a one-stop shop on energy efficiency for the public.

As green groups had feared, a return to nuclear power is one of the possible options available to be considered under the review, as it would be justified were a carbon valuation to be conducted, although the problem of storage must be first examined, Head said. The oft-vaunted phrase of “keeping the nuclear option open”, which has been bandied around in this review, must be clarified as to its exact meaning, he pointed out.

The PIU Deputy Head also confessed that under the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, even with no future emissions from electricity generation at all, the projected rise in emissions from transport, which is not incorporated into the review, will make the Government’s long-term aim to cut CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050, will be “impossible”. John Cheshire, a commentator on UK and European energy policy, said that he is “struck by the naivety of the debate on a carbon tax”, as the levels required to make any kind of difference are “not being addressed”, and timescales used are unpredictable. There are also doubts as to whether a carbon tax and emission trading are one and the same thing, Head said.

According to Head and Cheshire, one issue which is ignored by the long-term review is the future, and even current, implication of EU decision-making on domestic policy, as no-one can predict who will be making decisions and at what level by 2050, the final date covered by the review. Cheshire pointed out that although all 15 EU nations are keen on Kyoto, only three, including the UK, have published a full response to the Protocol, leaving a “fog surrounding their commitments”.

On the liberalisation of networks in European energy markets, Head asked if there is a plan for interconnection for the somewhat distant UK networks. Also on networks, the matter of how soon the UK will have to begin importing energy supply and whether it really matters also go unquestioned in the review, he added. According to Head, the issue of whether the UK should keep its dependence on gas is the most pressing issue for the here-and-now on energy policy.

The possibility that a better forum than the split agencies DEFRA and DTI could be found for addressing energy policy was also raised (see related story), as well as the possible need for coal, CHP and nuclear obligations, in a similar vein as that which exists for renewables. Another area which needs re-examination, according to Cheshire, is the structure of research and development, as the old model which national government had provided has disappeared, with work now having to be largely supplied at an international level.

One further area of the review which was cast into doubt was the failure to provide intermediate timescales for actions, with 2010 and 2050 seen as being too far apart, and 2020 or 2030 seen as a useful milestone for the setting and achieving of aims.

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