Measures to clean up power sector won’t be in coalition’s energy law, reveals Huhne

In a letter to today’s paper, the energy and climate change secretary has, in effect, confirmed that the emissions standard won’t be included in the coalition’s first energy bill. Instead, he uses the letter to reaffirm his commitment to bring forward the new green measure “as quickly as possible”.

Yesterday The Guardian splashed with the news that the coalition’s promise to introduce an emissions performance standard (EPS) to stop the most polluting power stations has been ‘put on hold’ and wouldn’t be in the coalition’s first energy law, which is expected to come before Parliament later this year.

This prompted Left Foot Forward to ask:

“Is Chris Huhne about to approve new dirty coal stations?”

In a letter to today’s paper, the energy and climate change secretary has, in effect, confirmed that the emissions standard won’t be included in the coalition’s first energy bill. Instead, he uses the letter to reaffirm his commitment to bring forward the new green measure “as quickly as possible”.

His letter promises a consultation within six months of the election and a white paper within a year and adds:

“The view that this might raise the possibility of new coal-fired power stations “slipping through the system” is ludicrous.”

Let’s unpick what this means in real terms.

Right now Peel Power has a live application to build a largely unabated coal plant at Hunterston in Scotland and the company wants approval for this imminently. Under the rules Ed Miliband introduced, if this were to be approved this plant would be mandated to include only a small pilot of CCS technology. That is all. With their flagship green EPS policy, the coalition pledged to go further. Now we know this won’t happen for literally years.

So in the meantime, if Huhne gives the nod to Hunterston, this new power station will pollute more than eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year for the foreseeable – far in excess of the pollution levels from a modern gas plant – remember David Cameron and George Osborne pledged to set their emissions limit at the level of a modern gas plant or lower. Furthermore, without their promised emissions performance standard in this year’s bill, there’s also no provision to reduce emissions from a plant like Hunterston in future.

This is despite advice from the government’s own advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, that the power sector must be completely decarbonised by 2030 – and despite their recommendation that no coal plant should be operating in the UK without full CCS by 2025 at the latest.

Given all of this, let’s assume four new coal stations go ahead – each with a small scale pilot of CCS paid for by taxpayers – as outlined under the last government. Without an emissions performance standard agreed this year, this could lead to tens of millions of tonnes of carbon pollution, year in year out, indefinitely. This alone could destroy the UK’s chance of hitting the carbon targets set out in the Climate Change Act.

You have to ask why both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were able to try and force an emissions performance standard into Ed Miliband’s Energy Bill – New Clause 15 – at the end of the last Parliament, which would have ensured the detail of an EPS would be before Parliament within 12 months of his bill passing, but now aren’t even considering putting something into their own first energy bill which would enable them to do precisely what they asked of Labour.

As the now energy minister, Tory MP Charles Hendry, said at the time:

“The critical point is that new clause 15 would put in place a time scale. It is a tight one, suggesting that proposals should be established for consultation within six months and confirmed and laid before Parliament within 12 months. In the time scale in which decisions would have to be made, businesses in Britain or elsewhere would know exactly what would be expected of them for some decades to come.

“That degree of clarity would be extremely helpful to them.”

Quite. But instead of providing such clarity, Charles Hendry and Chris Huhne are now kicking their totemic green pledge into the long grass by consulting into 2011 with the prospect of possibly putting an EPS into an energy bill some time after that – if indeed they even do another energy bill.

In the meantime, I understand Mr Huhne’s officials are busy preparing new measures to encourage Gulf-style offshore deep sea drilling in UK waters and that these new arrangements will be included in that same energy bill that won’t include their pledged EPS.

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