The debate in the UK has been slowly heating up since the middle of last year, when a right-wing think tank called on the Labour government to impose gradually reducing emissions standards for all power plants. The effect would have been a ban on new coal plants without Carbon Capture and Storage, (CCS), while allowing only the most efficient gas fired generation to continue to be built in the short term. The standard would gradually tighten until all coal and gas plants in the UK would require CCS technology. Greenbusiness.com reported the details last June:
The report recommends that the government imposes emission standards similar to those being considered by the EU for car exhausts on all new power stations. It claims that such standards would “eliminate coal without CCS and gradually tighten to ensure all power stations are fitted with CCS by 2020”.
Coal-fired power stations emit about 850kg of CO2/MWh, but the report recommends that from January next year all new fossil fuel power plants should have average annual emissions of no more than 350kg CO2/MWh – a level the report claims would “eliminate new-build coal with no CCS, but would still enable unabated gas plants to avoid electricity shortages”.
The proposed limit – which was endorsed by Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB – could then be tightened from 2015 to 170kg CO2/MWh or better for coal and 70kg CO2/MWh for gas, which would effectively require CCS to be fitted for both coal and gas stations.
The Tories immediately jumped on the bandwagon, admittedly because they support any call for CCS subsidies. MPs followed suit with the Environmental Audit Committee report coming out in support of emissions standards for power plants. Now the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission has joined the chorus, but the Labour government is still dragging its feet.
So if it is Ok for conservatives in the UK to call for an effective ban new thermal generation, except where it impacts security of supply, why is it not Ok for our conservatives to do it here? Are they so afraid of admitting that the Greens may be right about something that they will not follow common sense advice?
I know that I rubbished CCS just yesterday as an uneconomic option for lowering thermal emissions. But there are those who still believe that it is a technology with potential and that emissions standards will make it happen faster than any other government intervention.
I say let’s give it a try. Implementing standards and then letting the market decide how to achieve them, (whether it’s CCS or something else), is a very balanced approach to managing market failure. Are you listening, Gerry?