Fossil fuels will continue to play a role in our energy mix for decades to come said energy minister Andrea Leadsom at a Conservative Party conference fringe event on Wednesday. The event was hosted by free market think tank, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) and sponsored by Lord Vinson, a funder of the climate denying charity the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Kicking renewable energy into the long grass, Leadsom said that the “overall vision” is a decarbonised future but today’s priorities are keeping the lights on and lowering energy bills – this means less coal and more oil and gas. “There is no chance in the near term that we move away from fossil fuels; that just cannot happen,” she said.
“At the moment, our total energy relies over 80 percent on fossil fuels, so anybody saying ‘Switch off fossil fuels, just go for wind and solar’, that’s completely bonkers.”
She continued: “People say the world will end if you don’t move to a decarbonised future. Actually, the world would end today if we took their advice and switched off fossil fuels and just went to wind and solar.”
Some might say these comments slightly oversimplify matters. Last month, a Greenpeace-commissioned report detailed how the UK could generate more than 80 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and tidal power within just 15 years and keep the lights on – this is thanks to advances in storage and smart technology, alongside the falling cost of renewables.
And, new Bloomberg analysis this week shows wind and solar power are “much more competitive” against dirty energy sources than they were even a few years ago.
Clean Fossil Fuels
Wednesday’s event, entitled “New Foundations for a coherent energy policy”, also included Ken Cronin, chief executive of fracking industry body UKOOG and CPS research fellow, Tony Lodge, who were both on the discussion panel.
Agreeing with Cronin, Leadsom said that the best way to decarbonise quickly is to switch from coal to gas, not wind and solar.
Leadsom, however, did reaffirm the government’s commitment to its legally binding climate targets and agreed that “coal obviously is the bad guy, unabated coal is something that we need to move away from.”
“What we’ve got to do is be on a path towards a green energy future,” she said, “and what that means is this journey away from the dirtiest fossil fuels and to the greenest, the cleanest fossil fuels on our way to a renewable future.”
But Leadsom also argued that “we live in the real world” which, in addition to moving away from unabated coal, means “we’ve got to absolutely focus as we are doing on getting the most we can out of the North Sea basin… to focus on maximising the economic recovery [of oil and gas].”
The North Sea however is struggling. With the majority of reserves already extracted, dropping oil prices mean 140 fields in the area risk closure over the next five years.
Meanwhile, new figures released this week show that onshore wind farms are the cheapest source of electricity in Britain – they not only produce cheaper energy than coal, oil or gas power stations, but also remain far cheaper than offshore turbines.
Coherent Energy Policy
Leadsom concluded by saying that a “coherent Conservative energy policy” is a “tech-neutral” one – “We’re not picking the winners” she explained.
New energy policies are expected within the next few weeks, she said, and will focus on lowering the cost to the bill payer while promoting the development of new technologies.
“It’s not just about onshore wind and solar, which have had a lot of bill payer subsidies; it’s not just about offshore wind,” she said, “what we also want to succeed in is CCS, carbon capture and storage – a way of lengthening our use of fossil fuels.
“We also want to succeed at marine and tidal, and of course very importantly we want to succeed at the next generation of nuclear power plants.”
Photo: DECC via Flickr