Article

Ministers in power struggle over power

In the next decade, we are due to lose 40 per cent of the generating capacity that keeps our lights on and our economy running. Within a few years, eight of the nine nuclear plants that supply 20 per cent of our power will come to the end of their life. ... To address our looming energy crisis with the urgency it calls for, we would not only have to ignore the fantasies of Mr Hansen and the green lobby, but also directly confront our government in Brussels, which stands in the way of almost every measure we need to take. In this sense, in terms of what it will cost us, energy looks to become the defining issue of our EU membership.

Two events in recent days shed light on a battle at the heart of government over what threatens to be as serious a crisis as Britain has ever faced.

The first was at Maidstone Crown Court, where six Greenpeace activists face charges of criminal damage at Kingsnorth power station. In protest at a plan by E.On to build a 1,600 megawatt coal-fired plant on the site, the demonstrators had tried to paint the slogan "Gordon bin it" on a 630-foot chimney. They were interrupted by a court injunction after painting the Prime Minister's Christian name, which it then cost E.On 35,000 to remove.

What elevated this case into more than just a local incident was the presence, as Greenpeace's chief witness, of Al Gore's friend James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has done more than any other scientist in the past 20 years to promote alarm over global warming.

advertisementGreenpeace's case is that its members had a "lawful excuse" to damage the power station because they were only seeking to prevent it causing much greater damage through rising sea levels and extinctions brought about by climate change.

Mr Hansen told the court that the new power station... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Two events in recent days shed light on a battle at the heart of government over what threatens to be as serious a crisis as Britain has ever faced.

The first was at Maidstone Crown Court, where six Greenpeace activists face charges of criminal damage at Kingsnorth power station. In protest at a plan by E.On to build a 1,600 megawatt coal-fired plant on the site, the demonstrators had tried to paint the slogan "Gordon bin it" on a 630-foot chimney. They were interrupted by a court injunction after painting the Prime Minister's Christian name, which it then cost E.On £35,000 to remove.

What elevated this case into more than just a local incident was the presence, as Greenpeace's chief witness, of Al Gore's friend James Hansen, head of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has done more than any other scientist in the past 20 years to promote alarm over global warming.

advertisementGreenpeace's case is that its members had a "lawful excuse" to damage the power station because they were only seeking to prevent it causing much greater damage through rising sea levels and extinctions brought about by climate change.

Mr Hansen told the court that the new power station alone would be responsible for the extinction of "400 species".

It might seem odd that a senior US public official should fly the Atlantic to support the defendants in a criminal trial, but Mr Hansen regards it as a test case in the campaign by greens on both sides of the Atlantic to close down all coal-fired power stations in the next 20 years.

Before his court appearance it was reported that he met with the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, a passionate supporter of the environmentalists' cause. Mr Miliband opposes the Kingsnorth plan, but it is strongly supported by the Business Secretary, John Hutton, who is urging Gordon Brown to approve the scheme.

The deep rift between the two sides was made clear by an interview Mr Hutton recently gave to The Daily Telegraph. In a little-noticed passage, while allowing that "of course we've got to tackle climate change", he went on "but we've also got to be absolutely clear that our energy policy has got to be figured first and foremost with a view to supplying Britain with the affordable and secure energy it needs for the future. That is why we cannot turn our back on any proven form of technology. We cannot afford to say no to new coal, new gas or new nuclear."

The reason Mr Hutton was so vehement was that, as minister in charge of energy policy, he is the one senior politician who recognises the scale of the approaching crisis. In the next decade, we are due to lose 40 per cent of the generating capacity that keeps our lights on and our economy running.

Within a few years, eight of the nine nuclear plants that supply 20 per cent of our power will come to the end of their life. We shall also - thanks to an EU anti-pollution directive - have to close nine of the major coal and oil-fired power stations that provide another 20 per cent.To make up that shortfall - as the minister and his more responsible advisers have come to realise - is as urgent a problem as any that Britain faces. But how?

The biggest headlines so far have been given to the "£100 billion renewables package" announced by the Prime Minister last summer, in an attempt to meet the EU's requirement that by 2020 we must generate a third of our electricity from wind turbines and other renewables. But in terms of filling our energy gap, this is no more than green window dressing.

The energy from turbines is derisory: the 1,600MW plant planned for Kingsnorth would generate two-and-a-half times more electricity than all the 2,300 wind turbines already built. And due to the intermittency of wind, as E.On recently explained, we will need new conventional power stations to provide nearly 100 per cent back-up for the times when it is not blowing.

To build more gas-fired facilities, when our own gas supplies are fast running out, would, as Professor Dieter Helm told the BBC last week, be the worst of all options. It would put us at the mercy of Russia and other unreliable sources of supply just when gas prices are soaring.

Since we closed down most of our coal industry, to build more coal-fired stations (which still supply a third of our power) will also put us at the mercy of foreign suppliers, and coal prices are also hurtling upwards. Again our largest supplier is Russia, from whom we imported 35 per cent of the coal we needed last year.

All of which accounts for our Government's belated conversion to the belief that our best hope is to look to France's EDF to build us a new generation of nuclear power stations. But nuclear order books are lengthening all over the world, and pressurised water reactors take up to 10 years to build, so how can they be built in time?

Since the Central Electricity Generating Board was scrapped at the time of privatisation, we have no central body to direct Britain's energy provision. It is left to the supply companies to provide energy according to where profit lies. And the only obvious way in which the Government could incentivise EDF or anyone else to get on with building new nuclear power stations would be to offer some form of subsidy.

This would be strictly prohibited under EU state aid rules. The only form of energy subsidy allowed is that given to renewable sources of energy such as wind turbines (nuclear power, though carbon-free, does not count). In Britain it is this "renewables obligation", requiring supply companies to buy electricity from wind at nearly twice the normal price, that makes wind so profitable and hopelessly skews the investment market in favour of the one source of power least able to fill our energy gap.

To address our looming energy crisis with the urgency it calls for, we would not only have to ignore the fantasies of Mr Hansen and the green lobby, but also directly confront our government in Brussels, which stands in the way of almost every measure we need to take. In this sense, in terms of what it will cost us, energy looks to become the defining issue of our EU membership.

At last week's Republican Convention delegates were given a card that put "energy independence" at the top of the party's national agenda, a message reinforced by the vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. Threatened with the same suicidal green stranglehold on its energy policy, it seems America may just be waking up to reality in time. But, apart from the faint voice of Mr Hutton, which politician here has the faintest grasp of what is at stake?


Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/...

SEP 7 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/16972-ministers-in-power-struggle-over-power
back to top