Friday, July 12, 2013

stopping the wind

The 2010 Coalition agreement spelt it out in clear terms.

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations... provided that they receive no public subsidy. 

So, the most ardently pro-nuclear stance was one in which they were entirely privately funded. Liberal Democrats will oppose it nonetheless.

Two weeks ago Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander announced £10bn of public guarantees to investors in just one new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point.

This week the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report on the smothering at birth of Britain's offshore wind industry. With so much coastline and much of it relatively shallow, this country has an enviable position to establish  massive offshore wind infrastructure. It is much more expensive than building on land, but then it also avoids many of the problems such as spoilt landscapes. Additionally, out at sea you get greater production and efficiency as there aren't the obstacles that create turbulence around turbines.

However the government's lack of enthusiasm means we are building much less than anticipated. It had been expected that a hefty kickstart would see turbine manufacturers set up factories in the UK, but because of the reduced potential this hasn't happened. Increased capacity would, in turn, reduce the cost of offshore wind, leading to increased uptake. More renewable energy, more jobs, everyone wins. Except the fossil and nuke corporations such as EDF, currently lining up to build Hinkley Point as well as the new 'dash for gas' stations such as West Burton.

Will Straw, associate director at the IPPR, said: "The current policy trajectory could achieve a worst of all worlds outcome – low volume [of energy generated], low jobs and high costs.

It's a straight choice - runaway climate change or stopping the fossils to switch to renewables. A large proportion of our old coal stations are closing in the next few years. What we choose to build now decides the source of our electricity for the next forty years. With the new gas stations, the government is setting us up to fail our already paltry carbon emissions targets. Unlike Labour they are refusing to commit to decarbonisation by 2030 and are striving to scupper EU targets for the same date. The greenest government ever. Vote blue, go green.

The lack of investment in renewables and the duplicitous state funding of new nuclear are not two stories. They are one. Money is being steered away from what is sustainable to what is in the interests of the energy giants. They have ceased to offer inadequate solutions to the climate crisis and are now blatantly disregarding the entire issue.

Meanwhile, despite it being banned in many parts of Europe, the UK is pressing ahead with fracking for shale gas even though its climate impact is comparable to coal. The same right wingers who decry the eyesore of wind turbines are happy for fracking drills to cover the countryside (it's been seriously sugggested we could be looking at 50,000-100,000 in Lancashire alone). So again, this looks feels like one story, not two, and that there are other motives at work. And again, follow the money to the shareholder dividends.

This isn't just about climate, it's also about fuel poverty. The government's own Committee on Climate Change said whilst gas is cheaper in the short term, by 2050 a gas-based electricity system would cost households £650 per year more than renewables. This makes the tax breaks for fracking look like an attack on social justice as much as climate justice.


The climate imperative means we have to act now, against the corporate distraction and deceit. It was like this five years ago. But with such a huge swathe of the population aware of the scale of the climate threat, it was relatively easy for small campaign groups acting in unison to have a big impact. Being the only folks with solutions that matched the scale of the problem, being so clearly right that they could prove it in two minutes to a 5 year old with a crayon, it swiftly changed the course of events. The NGOs did what they do best with lobbying, local organising and commissioning reports. The direct activists added the ramshackle pizzazz that tipped the scales.

When Climate Camp went to Heathrow to occupy land earmarked for a new runway in 2007 they expected to be vilified and dismissed. By the end of the year aviation emissions had been forced into the Climate Change Act and plans for the runway were eventually shelved. The following year they didn't know if they'd be facing the bulldozers at the site for the new coal power station at Kingsnorth. Not only did that plan get dropped, so did the raft of others that were due to follow.

The first of the projected 40 new gas fired power stations are being built. Next month Climate Camp style action returns with Reclaim The Power, a camp at the nearly-finished West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire running from 16th to 21st August. The pressure has worked before and it can work again, but only if those who know it's right come together to make it happen.



Jethro said...

Thanks, great article! Can you tell me the source of the Reclaim the Power image at the foot of the page?

merrick said...

Hi Jethro,

I understand it's a design recently done fro Reclaim The Power by UHC in Manchester, an artist collective who did some of the iconic Climate Camp posters and among whose ranks are some great old-schol activists