The UK Government's climate advisers have hit out at ministers' support for future gas power, warning that it would prevent the UK meeting legal targets to cut emissions it was reported here today.
The Committee on Climate Change has written to Energy Secretary Ed Davey expressing "great concern" over the Government's recent statement that gas will continue to play an important role in the energy mix up to and beyond 2030.
The mixed messages the Government is sending out over energy policy will damage efforts to get investment into low-carbon technologies such as nuclear and renewables which is needed to tackle climate change, the committee says in the letter.
The Government should set a specific limit for 2030 for the amount of carbon energy generation can produce, to encourage investment in low-carbon power and avoid a new "dash for gas", the committee says.
In July the Energy Department resisted calls for significant cuts to onshore wind farm subsidies, stressing the importance of clean energy, but outlined support for gas up to and beyond 2030 and not just as a back up to renewables.
The move was seen as a compromise between the Liberal Democrat-led department and the Treasury which has asserted Government backing for gas, including tax breaks for North Sea gas fields.
But the Committee on Climate Change, led by new chairman Lord Deben, is warning that extensive use of gas-fired power stations that are not fitted with the technology to capture and permanently store away their emissions would not allow the UK to meet its legal five-year "carbon budgets" for reducing greenhouse gases.
The letter says: "Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without carbon capture and storage technology) in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets." Carbon budgets, to help meet a long-term legally binding target to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050, require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades.
"Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 target," the independent advisers warn.
"However, the apparently ambivalent position of the Government about whether it is trying to build a low-carbon or a gas-based power system wakens the signal provided by carbon budgets to investors.
"The cases for low-carbon business development, capital allocation, innovation and supply chain investment are undermined, damaging prospects for required low-carbon investments." The letter was also sent to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin.