Thursday, November 01, 2012

no dash for gas

In the early hours of Monday morning around 30 activists invaded West Burton power station on the Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border. Although a massive coal fired power station has been there since the 1960s and was blazing away, the protest is aimed at a different target.

European laws restricting sulphur dioxide emissions to reduce acid rain come into effect in 2015. Rather than face the vast expense of retrofitting coal fired power stations that breach the new rules, many will simply close. A new swathe of electricity generation is going to be built in the coming years. Whatever we choose will be in service for decades to come. Essentially, we are choosing our childrens' power sources.

This is exactly the time to switch to renewables. As the redoubtable Danny Chivers explains, the arguments against doing so are pushable over with a feather. With technologies that are here today we could readily be producing most of our electricity renewably. Britain's geography gives us vast potential for offshore wind, wave and tidal generation and there are credible, detailed sources saying we could be Zero Carbon Britain by 2030. So the government is committed to building two dozen new gas fired power stations instead.

Gas is cheaper than renewables today, and the fossil burning corporations have friends, lobbyists and board members in high places that the renewables sector can't even dream of. But it's a short term vision that passes on the true cost to those yet to come. If I were building a house next door to you it might be cheaper to put my sewage outflow into your garage. It would not be fair.

Gas is lower carbon than coal, but that's shifting. Rather like unconventional oil such as tar sands is way more carbon intensive, so we're starting to buy what is, in its way, unconventional gas. Gas is extracted in Qatar, cooled to minus 162 degrees C, with all the carbon cost you'd imagine. It is then kept at that temperature as it is shipped round to us.

This isn't just about climate change, it's about national independence and social justice.We will be subject to price hikes dictated by our suppliers, notably Russia, as they get control and more customers compete. Energy prices will rocket, pushing more and more people into fuel poverty. instead, we could be producing electricity with minimal environmental cost and no greedy suppliers with their hands on the taps.

The 'dash for gas' is a new target for environmental and social justice campaigners. In an audacious opening salvo they got 17 of them up two chimneys at West Burton, where the second of the new stations is being built, right alongside one of the condemned coal ones. Thirty or so people organising in secrecy and pulling it off, a great bounceback from the Kennedy-hobbled climate action of previous years.

They've taken enough supplies to last a week and, at the time of writing, have been up there for nearly four days. They've got a solar panel with them to keep their phones charged and are tweeting some pretty spectacular pictures as well as eloquently explaining their position to the media. You can follow them @nodashforgas and check their website here. Here's hoping this is just the start.

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