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9 GW of new gas capacity set to lock UK into high carbon future, warns FoE

Green policy news – by GreenWise staff
14th March 2012
Up to nine gigawatts of new gas-fired electricity generation could come on line by 2016, threatening to drive up energy bills and lock the UK into a future of high carbon electricity generation, Friends of the Earth warned today.
In a report looking at how much new gas is set to come into the system over the next decade, Friends of the Earth (FoE) has found that energy firms are planning to build nearly double the number of gas-fired power stations the Government says the UK may need. The green group says unless the Government gets tough on how many emissions these new power stations can emit, it will not hit the recommended targets on emissions reductions for electricity generation, locking the UK into a high carbon future.
According to its own "conservative" estimates, FoE says nine gigawatts (GW) of capacity – enough to power almost nine million homes – could come on line by 2016. This, it says, is nearly twice the additional 4.9GW the Government projects may be needed by 2020.

And in an accompanying briefing document, FoE makes the case that keeping the UK hooked on gas will also prove more expensive for households and businesses. Average gas bills increased by 90 per cent between 2004 and 2010. The UK is now a net importer of gas and increasingly exposed to global fluctuations in the price of gas. The FoE paper, 'Gas Prices: Is The Only Way Up?’, points out that, in two out of three scenarios about future gas prices, the Government estimates gas prices will either be 11 per cent or 51 per cent higher than in 2011. 

"To ensure we have energy we can all afford, Ministers must support clean homegrown power and get tough on dirty energy – that means introducing a ban on new gas plants, unless there is a strong Emissions Performance Standard to limit carbon pollution from power stations," Friends of the Earth’s Energy Campaigner Paul Steedman said.

New gas capacity
In its report about new gas plants in the UK, 'Enough is enough: new gas-fired power station capacity in the UK’, Friends of the Earth reveals the Government has already consented to 16.2 GW of new gas capacity. A further 6.2 GW has been applied for or is at pre-application stage. This is in addition to 3.9GW of new capacity that has come online in the last 18 months. 

However, due to investment decisions and the impact of the economic downturn, not all that capacity is expected to come on line. But according to a recent analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 11GW of new gas plants could still be built in 2012 – 2016. 

FoE’s report takes a more conservative approach and suggests almost 9GW of new capacity could be added to the system.

"This is significantly above the Government’s projection of new capacity, which is itself higher than the CCC’s [Committee on Climate Change] carbon targets," the report says.

Friends of the Earth wants gas to be used as "transition fuel" to get the UK off more polluting coal-fired electricity generation. But it says that under current plans, the UK risks "a second dash for gas, and being locked in to a high carbon power system". 

Emissions Performance Standard too weak
As part of its upcoming Electricity Market Reform, the Government is proposing to introduce an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for new gas-fired power stations, but FoE says it is too "weak".

"Friends of the Earth believe that the EPS should be tougher and the level should drop over time, so that emissions from the power sector are no more than 50g CO2/kWh in 2030, consistent with the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change," the report says.

FoE is calling on the Government to amend the planning rules in the National Policy Statements to limit new gas consents unless they are fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage, as is already the case with coal.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) failed to respond to requests from GreenWise to comment on FoE’s report on plans for new gas-fired power stations or the green group’s proposals for strengthening the EPS.

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9 GW of new gas capacity set to lock UK into high carbon future, warns FoE
Energy companies have 16.2 GW of new gas capacity already consented to
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