Thursday, June 1, 2017

Election Time: Green energy promises

In its election manifesto, Labour says it will ‘ensure that 60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030’. That’s in line with the scenario it produced last year, which talked of getting 65% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030, with 47GW of offshore wind, 21GW of onshore wind (up from around 5GW and 10GW at present respectively) and 25GW of PV solar (up from 12GW now): In parallel, Labour had shown strong interest in the various green gas options for heating:

60% of all energy (if that’s what they really meant) is however a significant goal, even if maybe 10% would come from existing and planned nuclear, which presumably it sees as being included in the ‘zero carbon’ category- although in reality, given the energy and carbon debt associated with fissile fuel production, it isn’t actually zero carbon.

However, the commitment to nuclear (and to Euratom!), although there, is a little fudged.  While the Manifesto says nuclear will continue to be part of the energy supply’, and that we will support further nuclear projects and protect nuclear workers’ jobs and pensions,’ it goes on: ‘There are considerable opportunities for nuclear power and decommissioning both internationally and domestically.’ Is the implication that this is where the job security for nuclear workers will be found- not in new nuclear generation? It seems not since, separately,  Jeremy Corbyn said that ‘Labour supports nuclear power as an important part of a low carbon energy mix and would continue to support the construction of Hinkley C’: and it also backed Wylfa in Wales:

As for other energy workers, it notes that ‘The low-carbon economy is one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors, creating jobs and providing investment across each region. It employed an estimated 447,000 employees in the UK in 2015 and saw over £77 billion in turnover. With backing from a Labour government, these sectors can secure crucial shares of global export markets’. The 447,000 figure seems to include nuclear workers, but recent ONS data put nuclear related employment at just 5.3% of total UK low carbon energy employment, compared to around 20% in renewables, most of the rest being in energy efficiency:

In terms of fossil energy, Labour says it will ‘ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline’, but it will support emerging technologies such as carbon capture and storage, since they can ‘help to smooth the transition to cleaner fuels and to protect existing jobs as part of the future energy mix’.
However, this transition does not seem to be total:  it promises to ‘safeguard the offshore oil and gas industry, we will provide a strategy focused on protecting vital North Sea assets, and the jobs and skills that depend on them.’  Although it does add ‘We are committed to renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons, which can help create manufacturing and energy jobs as well as contributing to climate- change commitments’.
Maybe it is suggesting that this is where some offshore workers will be redeployed in time – though it could also have highlighted offshore wind and tidal stream and wave projects as possible destination.
There will also be a lot of employment in energy efficiency in all sectors e.g. Labour says it will ‘insulate four million homes as an infrastructure priority to help those who suffer in cold homes each winter. This will cut emissions, improve health, save on bills, and reduce fuel poverty and winter deaths’.
Social and economic issues are clearly to the fore, with plans for radical changes in the management and structure of the energy system.  Labour says it will seek to ‘regain control of energy supply networks through the alteration of operator license conditions, and transition to a publicly owned, decentralised energy system’.  Specifically, it looks to ‘the creation of publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives to rival existing private energy suppliers, with at least one if every region, and to ‘legislating to permit publicly owned local companies to purchase the regional grid infrastructure, and to ensure that national and regional grid infrastructure is brought into public ownership over time. With an emergency price cap in the meantime.
Overall then, nuclear apart, a quite radical programme, funded, along with the rest of its £48.6bn programme, mainly by increased taxation on the 5% of the highest earners and by raised corporation tax:
Its interesting to compare it with the Green Party manifesto. That says ‘We will ensure that all new investment in energy is directed towards clean, renewable energy, and a smarter, networked grid, with battery-storage, demand-side measures, and interconnection. We will introduce a ban on fracking, phase-out the £6bn-a-year fossil fuel subsidies, bring forward the coal phase-out date to 2023 (at the latest), divest public funds from the fossil fuel industry, and ensure a just transition for those communities dependent on fossil fuel jobs. We will cancel the contracts for Hinkley Point C (saving £37bn), and scrap plans for all new nuclear power stations, instead investing in renewable energy, a flexible grid, and interconnection to Europe’.
So some similarities, but no fudges on nuclear or fossil fuel, and a strong commitment to specific renewables. It will ‘end the effective ban on-onshore wind– the cheapest form of new electricity generation– and introducing new support for onshore wind and solar-photovoltaics; scaling up investment in offshore wind and marine renewables; significant investment in vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure; and a comprehensive plan to decarbonize heat, including pilot residential and commercial projects’. There will also be a national programme of insulation and retrofitting to make every home warm – bringing two million people out of fuel poverty, insulating nine million homes, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs’. So a bigger scheme than Labour’s.
In terms of structural changes, it will end the monopoly of the Big Six by building democratic, locally owned alternatives - reaching at least 42 gigawatts by 2025. We will require grid operators to give priority access to community energy projects, and pioneer a new Community Energy Tool Kit to empower local communities to create energy and municipal heating projects in every town and city’.
All very different from UKIP- which backs nuclear and fracking and wants to repeal the Climate Change Act and exit the Paris climate accord!
The Conservatives, being the sitting tenants, had the advantage of being able to point to the programme they had backed, with renewables now at 34GW- supplying 25% of UK power. But that was much reliant on the Lib Dems in the coalition earlier – and the Lib Dems clearly now want to continue with more: 60% of electricity by 2030. Like Labour, they oppose fracking and back nuclear - though it has to be unsubsidised. Which seems impossible!
But that doesn’t seem to worry the Tories, although excessive energy costs have ostensibly been the reason for the cuts in support for renewables, although their proposed price cap on energy got mixed reactions: and Also: It’s manifesto softened this commitment and promised a review of energy costs, but with fracking backed and onshore wind still opposed:
Meantime, while the Big 6 energy utilities dug in against the proposed price cap, independent Pure Planet offered a new allegedly100% low-cost renewable deal, in effect sidestepping them and the cap: The Sun liked it! The existing independents,  Ecotricity and Good Energy, charge more, although they invest in new capacity. But one way or another, maybe this is what might emerge under the more open schemes proposed by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens. Though will they get the chance? Or will only the SNP be able to push their radical plans- which includes a 1GW target for community and locally-owned energy by 2020, and 2 GW by 2030, within their overall ‘50% renewable energy by 2030’ draft plan for Scotland.
*Interestingly, the Tory Manifesto ignored nuclear. That led to this speculative piece:

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