Under the Microscope: Which of the Three Big Political Parties Has the Best Plans for Ensuring Our Energy Security?

By Ferguson, Ben | New Statesman (1996), March 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Under the Microscope: Which of the Three Big Political Parties Has the Best Plans for Ensuring Our Energy Security?


Ferguson, Ben, New Statesman (1996)


We're running low on oil in the North Sea, and importing fossil fuels from elsewhere leaves us vulnerable to international power games. The EU's Renewable Energy Directive requires the share of renewable energy in the UK's energy mix to increase to 15 per cent by 2020, and the Climate Change Act 2008 demands 80 per cent carbon cuts by 2050. Finally, coal-powered plants need to meet emission standards laid down by the 2001 EU Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD); a number of them are due to be closed down by 2016, and some of our nuclear plants are also scheduled to be decommissioned imminently.

With the general election looming, the New Statesman asked a mini-panel to cast its eyes over how the three main political parties plan to meet these challenges. Kindly offering their expertise are Dale Vince, chief executive of the power company Ecotricity, Edward Guinness, co-manager of the Guinness Alternative Energy Fund, and Andrew Robertson, co-director of Clean Energy Consultancy Ltd.

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Labour Party policy

In November 2009 Ed Miliband announced that he wanted ten new nuclear power stations to be in operation within the next decade. The government has also laid plans for 10,000 new wind turbines; the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) wants 30 per cent of the country's electricity produced by renewables, up from 5.5 per cent today.

Labour believes renewables will promote the security of the country's energy supply and reduce the overall demand for fossil fuels by roughly 10 per cent and gas imports by up to 30 per cent. To increase the pace of change, Labour has established the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to oversee applications to build new nuclear and coal-fired plants in England and Wales.

Much of this new renewable supply will come from wind power both onshore and offshore. By 2020, 12 per cent of heat energy and 10 per cent of transport energy will also come from renewable sources such as biogas from anaerobic digestion, solar power and low-carbon electricity. While Labour has earmarked a [pounds sterling]90m budget for this, it has also introduced a requirement, through the Renewables Obligation, that energy suppliers source renewable resources.

Third, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will mean--Labour hopes--that we can continue to use coal. The UK version of CCS works on the premise that the carbon emitted from fossil-fuel plants after combustion will be stored away from the atmosphere in the surrounding geological formations. The party has launched a commercial competition for proof that a CCS commercial model can work.

A new, smarter grid will connect renewable contributions along with conventional sources of energy supply to meet the anticipated burgeoning demand on the National Grid. It will require [pounds sterling]4.7bn to deliver this. In addition, Labour has started work on an entirely new offshore transmission regime in anticipation of wind energy's role in the future.

Energy efficiency, Labour hopes, can also make a huge contribution. The party wants to encourage energy efficiency and carbon reduction in businesses and households, and plans to instal smart meters in every home by 2020. The government also expects the European Emissions Trading Scheme--by encouraging energy companies to factor a carbon price in to their investment decisions--to result in a 22 per cent reduction in [CO.sub.2] emissions by the power sector by 2020 (on 2008 levels), as well as implementing legislation such as the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (Cert) that requires energy companies to advise consumers on the best ways to become energy-efficient.

Feed-in tariffs--consumer paybacks for small-scale electricity generation and feeding the grid through solar panels--and retrofitting all British homes by providing households with cheap loans are schemes being put in place. The pace of change is formidable. …

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