Thursday, 1 June 2017

Labour pledges massive target for renewable energy

It still may require a slight touch on Douglas Adams' improbability drive to imagine that a Labour Government could emerge from this general election, but let us assume that it happens and we can talk about what this might mean for green energy prospects. Basing my analysis solely on what Labour's manifesto says, perhaps two words sum it all up: benign confusion. But within that, there's no way around it. Labour are pledging to achieve a massive target for renewable energy.

The manifesto says, in a sort of summary 'We will transform our energy systems, investing in new, state of the art low carbon gas and renewable electricity production'. That's not too bad, and there is even the implication that 'low carbon gas' could be biogas from grass, suggested by Ecotricity, Jo Abess and Keith Barnham (now what a coalition that is!). Fracking gas is to be banned. Jolly good, Makes a change from the Conservatives who to want to make compulsory for local authorities to accept planning applications for exploratory drilling.

Perhaps the biggest piece of confusion generated by the manifesto is the statement that a Labour Government would 'ensure that 60 per cent of the UK's energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030', not least because, as all energy nerds of whatever prejudice will tell you, there is no such thing as a zero carbon energy source. Now, yes you can have rules about  zero carbon homes (about which Labour will 'consult') since low energy usage can be balanced by energy production from, say, solar panels, but zero carbon energy source itself? No, not really - low carbon is the term to use, please.

Some have suggested that the '60 per cent of the UK's energy' 'by 2030' pledge is itself a mistake, and that they really meant 'electricity' rather than 'energy', but of course that's not what the manifesto says. 60 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2030 is a much less radical target, although this in itself is similar to the Liberal Democrat pledge and much better than the Conservatives.

BUT IT SAYS ENERGY. And we wouldn't let them forget it! It can't include nuclear power since that is not zero carbon, and zero carbon doesn't exist anyway, as already pointed out. So it must mean renewables. Entirely. Saying that this was some sort of typo will just not wash! Of course you can guess from from my tone that this means the 60 per cent of ENERGY target is actually pretty radical - not far, in fact, behind Green Party policy (and no, I didn't write that by the way, though I approve its general direction). With that policy it will be all renewable hands on deck! Full speed ahead!

Indeed, achievement of this target would mark good progress towards achieving the task, enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, of delivering, by 2050. a minimum of an 80 per cent reduction in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

There is some confusion on what Labour policy means for nuclear power. There is talk for support for future nuclear projects, but then there is no mention of specifics like Hinkley C and an impression that this just might mean decommissioning projects and a bit of international marketing. If so, that would be damage limitation. Who knows? Probably not the people who wrote this!

There are some laudable promises on energy conservation, insulating 4 million homes (that would be a start, at least), offering home owners interest free loans for energy efficiency.

There is an interesting policy on establishing publicly owned 'locally accountable' 'energy companies and cooperatives'. This could in the right form, be highly innovative in various ways, and smacks of the influence of Alan Simpson.

But how innovative this foray into creating local energy companies will be really depends on what is meant by 'locally accountable'. If there are some local popular elections to fill the executives, then great! Lots of exciting things could happen. But I have a fear that what might actually happen is that the whole thing will be run by groups of Labour councillors, which is not really very accountable. They may appoint some 'energy' trade union guys from the GMB who might spend their time and money given to them trying to get 'small modular reactors' and 'carbon capture and storage' projects going which will never actually happen anyway.

That possibility aside of course, Labour's manifesto is a lot better for green energy than the Tory manifesto whose main preoccupation seems to be to persuade the English Tory shires that they will not be bothered by more wind turbines.

But, methinks, what is the chance of all this? Well, I console myself, at least there is a bigger chance of this happening than Donald Trump forming a coalition with Syria and Nicaragua to successfully 'renegotiate' the Paris Agreement on Climate Change!

NOTE: Some, however, still think even the 60 per cent of energy by 2030 target is conservative - or at least Keith Barnham writes to me saying so, explaining that, for example, offshore wind could be supplying all of UK electricity by the early 2020s. See a piece he wrote in 'Nature':

1 comment:

  1. Dave
    It is useful to have this information. I will try to circulate your piece in our local Labour Party after the noise dies down. I 'went back to Labour' last year. Younger people seem more aware and prepared to do the thinking.