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Power Generation ‘Emissions Performance Standard’ Risks Emissions Backfire: UK Parliamentary Select Committee Report

October 26, 2011

In a report on energy security, the UK Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change concludes that a key measure aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power generation risks leading to adverse outcomes.

To realise energy security, signficant investment in power generation must rapidly be brought on-line.  To meet emissions reduction targets, that generation must be low-carbon: the aim of the Emissions Performance Standard.  Plant built before 2015 would have emissions permits ‘grandfathered’ and not be subject to emissions tightening.

We believe that the proposal for a weak Emission Performance Standard (EPS) coupled with 20 year grandfathering will result in a hectic “dash-for-gas” ahead of the 2015 review. This increases the risk of locking the UK into a high-carbon electricity system and represents a huge gamble on the eventual availability of cost effective Carbon Capture and Storage technology for gas plants. This could pose a severe threat to the achievement of our long-term climate change goals. Moreover, applying the EPS only to coal puts the government in the position of choosing technology winners, exactly the outcome that an EPS, by mandating an outcome not a particular technology solution, is supposed to avoid.

Only in December last year, the same Committee concluded that an EPS was a critical component of climate change strategy to meet 2030 targets, albeit with potential cost implications.  At that time, concern already existed for the potential for adverse consequences.  These concerns persist.

On the flip-side, the fear previously held will not be realised, according to the most recent report:  that electricity generation projects in planning – mostly gas-fired – imply that there would be no pre-2020 ‘generation gap’.

Therein lies the rub: an as-yet unresolved tension between energy security and climate change ambitions.

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