Clean coal ‘essential’ to meet UK energy targets

Clean coal ‘essential’ to meet UK energy targets

Government should invest the same urgency in setting up the UK’s carbon capture and storage demonstration project as it has shown on nuclear power, Britain’s leading energy union has said.

Days after the Government confirmed four locations as potential sites for nuclear new build, the Prospect union urged ministers to make a decision on the £1 billion CCS project for which UK energy companies are awaiting the go-ahead.

The need for urgent government action to develop CCS technology was the central issue voiced by all stakeholders at a major conference held in London, The Future for Clean Coal, whose report has just been published and is available for download from the Prospect library.

Attended by top executives from energy companies, government ministers, MPs, trade unionists, regional agencies and pressure groups, the seminar was held in October 2008 at the Royal Society.

Organised by Prospect, the seminar was marked by the universal agreement of participants that CCS is the only way for the UK to meet its carbon emission targets and to achieve energy security. This will be true however fast government presses ahead with nuclear new build and renewable sources of supply.

Key points to emerge from the debate:

  • Government must drive the advance of CCS technology. Charles Hendry, Shadow Energy Minister said: “If the Government leaves it purely to the market there is a real risk that homes and businesses will be left without fuel or energy in a few years.”
  • Public subsidies to develop CCS must be granted, said Malcolm Wicks, the Prime Minister’s special representative on energy issues, or there would be “added impetus towards a new dash for gas.” Wicks confirmed that the cost of the CCS demonstration project now being tested by government would be “around £1 billion.”
  • The urgent public interest in developing CCS demands the formation of a dedicated government agency. This policy was backed by the TUC, Prospect and the Shadow Minister for Energy.
  • Regional transport and storage networks would be key to making CCS work, Government agencies and private energy companies agreed.
Senior executives from E.ON UK, ScottishPower and RWE npower agreed that CCS technology works – but warned it has yet to be scaled up at economic cost. There was unanimous support for the government to press ahead quickly with the current demonstration project designed to prove that carbon capture has a commercial future.

Prospect speaker Sue Ferns stressed that investment in skills is essential if the UK is to take full advantage of CCS technology and the huge employment opportunities it could generate in manufacturing, construction and energy industries. The UK could be a world leader but only if the government coordinates activity across industrial sectors, she said.