UK Energy White Paper urges CCS launch but stirs controversy for endorsement of nuke power

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As a result, BP unexpectedly pulled out of the Peterhead, Scotland CCS project announced in March by Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling on May 23rd – the same day the DTI white paper was issued. The UK government also maintains a positive attitude toward developing nuclear power as an emission-free energy source – even as it struggles to scrape together funding to decommission aging nuclear sites.

Ambitious cuts
The UK energy plan sets forth some ambitious pledges. DTI plans, for instance, to triple the amount of energy supplied by renewable sources by 2015. The government also plans to introduce legislation obliging energy suppliers to double their energy efficiency measures. DTI also wants to reinforce the Emissions Trading Scheme to secure competition for lower carbon energy production.

With all measures combined, emissions from the UK are expected to be cut by 23 to 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 – the equivalent of the amount currently emitted by the British transport sector.

“There’s a real will among consumers and businesses to become more energy efficient, tackle climate change and move the UK towards a low-carbon economy,” British Environment Secretary David Milliband said in comments reported by British media

“Government’s role is to make it as easy as possible for them to do this. The Energy White Paper is part of that picture.”

CCS is among the technologies the UK government will encourage to help curb carbon dioxide emissions. The UK hopes to be the first country in the world with an industrial scale fossil fuel power plant equipped with CCS technology, storing 90 percent of all carbon emissions in deep underground reservoirs.

To reach this goal the government earlier this year announced that it will be evaluating regions throughout Britain for the location of a full scale CCS plant, and will be awarding a contract.

“In particular, given that major economies are going to continue to use coal, we need to make sure that the technologies that eliminate carbon emissions from coal use are developed and used as rapidly as possible,” Beckett told reporters.

Cold water from British Petroleum
But these encouraging words were followed by the news that BP had decided to scrap their CCS project in Peterhead, Scotland. The Peterhead project was considered to be one of the major contenders among the eight projects in the CCS contract competition.

The Peterhead oil field will soon empty, making it an excellent reservoir for captured carbon. But BP said the government is too sluggish in its contracting process, which promised promising a fully operational plant between only by 2011 and 2014. BP says it is too expensive to keep the Peterhead field running until then, especially if it is not even assured that it will get the contract for the first industrial scale CCS plant.

The decision by BP shows that London needs to move faster in order to contract for the deployment of innovative low carbon technology.

“It is very unfortunate that private companies back out of CCS projects like Peterhead because governments are to slow to give necessary incentives for innovation,” said Bellona’s energy expert Aage Stangeland.

“It sends a negative signal to companies in other countries as well, and shows that governments needs to be more proactive.”

Nuclear focus
Other downsides to the energy plan is it focus on nuclear energy. Following a public consultation process, the DTI wishes to start a “Justification” and “Strategic Siting Assessment” process for nuclear energy. Secretary Darling held out for Britain’s nuclear ambitions.

“And we will consult on the significant role that new nuclear power stations could play in cutting emissions and diversifying our supply,” he said in British media reports.

This development is not welcomed by most environment NGOs, as nuclear power is not considered to be secure for three reasons: The risk of proliferation on nuclear materials, the potential for catastrophic accidents and unsatisfactory solutions to storing nuclear and radioactive waste.

"If the government do go down the nuclear route, they will be committing the UK to a dirty, dangerous and astronomically expensive future," said Green Party spokeswoman Sian Berry

Bellona’s Aage Stangeland elaborated on the difficulties surrounding the inclusion of Nuclear energy in the DTI White Paper.

“In addition to the extreme risk of nuclear power production and waste handling, nuclear energy can not provide the necessary supply to remedy climate change,” he said.

“While fossil energy today comprises 81 percent of the world’s energy use, the International Energy Agency stipulates that nuclear energy only have the potential to cover 7 percent of the world’s energy demand by 2030.“

The nuclear emphasis and BPs unexpected retreat from the Peterhead project cast a gloomy shadow over the environmental potential of the long awaited Energy White Paper, despite its promise to substantially curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Niklas Kalvø Tessem

niklas@bellona.no