The stricter consents policy
31. We also took an interest in the stricter
consents policy which currently acts to limit the construction
of new gas-fired power stations which have contributed so significantly
to the UK's climate change performance since 1990.
Mr John Battle, MP, the Energy Minister, was at pains to emphasise
that the policy was neither a moratorium nor an attempt to assist
the coal industry. He argued that it was necessary ensure diversity
and security of supply while flaws in the wholesale market, artificially
favouring natural gas capacity, were addressed.
32. The Environment Minister had told us in an earlier
inquiry that: "The moratorium on gas fired stations was designed...
to provide some assistance to the extremely hard hit coal industry...
as a result of recent history the coal industry has been in very
substantial difficulties and it was generally believed that for
that reason and to also achieve diversity and balance in our energy
supply we should not diminish coal towards zero and push gas to
90 per centone needed a better balance. That was what really
lay behind that."
We put this to the Mr Battle who told us that he did not agree
with Mr Meacher: "It is nothing to do with the coal industry.
The coal industry digs the coal out and they have to sell it to
power stations. Power stations which generate energy from coal
can and do buy their coal from international sources... It was
not a policy designed and constructed to help the coal industry."
He went on to say that "In a sense it will work through to
ensure that coal-burning power stations get a look in. To that
extent I may simply be playing with words."
33. We do not feel that the Government is clear about
the objectives of the stricter consents policy. There appears
to be a difference of views between the Environment Minister and
the Energy Minister on the extent to which the policy was intended
to assist the UK coal industry. We heartily approve of assistance
being offered to hard hit coal mining communities but question
whether a policy on power station consents can make a significant
contribution over the longer term. In addition, a policy to slow
the displacement of coal consumption with that of gas does appear
to run counter to the UK's environmental priorities. Enron UK
Limited, a major gas and electricity company, defined gas as the
most carbon efficient fuel available for power generation and
thus the best technology for an economy in transition to a zero-carbon
In riposte the Association of Coal Producers pointed to the development
of clean coal technologies and the need to pursue these further.
34. We note the recent conclusions of the Trade and
Industry Committee that there are no reasons on grounds of security
of supply to resist the growing use of gas; and that even under
unrestricted growth of gas use, UK energy supply would still be
more diverse that it has been for most of this century.
With regard to the impact of the stricter consents policy on meeting
the UK's climate change targets, Mr Leslie Packer of the Sustainable
Energy Division, DETR, told us: "we are looking at these
issues in the context of between now and 2010, and our judgment
is that in that context policies introduced here are not going
to materially affect gas and coal burning."
The DTI's environmental appraisal of the stricter consents policy
asserted that the Government would deliver its climate change
commitments but we were surprised to read that it was not possible
to quantify the impact of the new policy on emissions.
However, Mr David Lewis of Enron made the reasonable point that
reducing emissions just in time to hit a particular target is
one thing, but the incremental loading of the atmosphere with
avoidable carbon dioxide in the meantime is quite another.
35. We regard the stricter consents policy to
be serving no particular purpose and as running counter to the
spirit of the Government's commitments on climate change. We recommend
that the Government conclude the reform of the wholesale electricity
market as soon as possible so that it may bring the stricter consents
policy to an end. However, we believe that tinkering with power
station consents is peripheral to the vital work needed to establish
a sound footing for the development of sustainable energy sources
for the UK over the longer term.