For secure and affordable energy, the government should take a more long term view and invest in a genuine low carbon economy, says the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). Investment in gas should not come at the expense of renewable investment nor sideline the nation’s climate commitments.
Published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Gas Generation Strategy outlines the government’s plans for meeting domestic energy demands. The strategy sets out plans for up to 37 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030 and sets to expand the shale gas industry by introducing the new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil as a one-stop shop for shale gas regulation and investment.
With the extent of shale gas reserves in the United Kingdom unknown, CIWEM finds such heavy investment in gas to be short-sighted and environmentally risky. Whilst there will be a medium term need for some generating capacity from gas as part of the transition to a low carbon economy, CIWEM is concerned that the Treasury is driving the UK away from its commitments on climate change. By including provision for up to 37 gigawatts of gas capacity in the Strategy, the Treasury’s proposals would add almost 50% to the 26 gigawatts of capacity advised by DECC and in the process shatter the UK’s very responsible carbon budgets.
In addition, proposals for gas to play a more extensive role in the nation’s energy strategy could lock the nation into expensive fossil fuels if cheap shale gas fails to yield as hoped. Investment in gas infrastructure must not detract from energy efficiency, local combined heat and power and clean renewable energy investment in sources such as solar, wind, biomass, wave and tidal power. To achieve secure and affordable energy long term, the nation needs greater investment in renewables.
In its ‘dash for gas,’ the government must ensure that climate change commitments are not lost amidst its new developments. It is well known that methane can be emitted from unconventional gas extraction during several steps of the gas production process. Fugitive emissions of methane are a concern in fracking fields; natural gas is predominantly methane, which has a very high global warming potential.
Robust regulation of fracking in the United Kingdom is essential. With the strategy forecasting commencement of shale gas production within the second half of this decade, CIWEM urges the government to proceed with caution until there is more evidence that fracking operations can be delivered safely, that environmental impacts are acceptable and that monitoring, reporting and mitigation requirements are comprehensive and effective.
CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says: “We have long called for a renewed and long term commitment to a renewable-centred energy mix. Regrettably, the government has now made gas central to its energy policies, rather than prioritising renewables, which will jeopardise our commitments to halting climate change. This is another example of the Treasury’s short term approach to grow the economy. This investment in gas could be better spent developing renewable energy infrastructure to secure more sustainable and affordable energy in the future.”