Scotland’s last coal fired power station at Longannet is set to close later today as its last reserves of coal are burned up. While environmental groups have welcomed the demise of the 2,400MW power station (for a comparison, this is nearly five times the output of Britain’s biggest offshore wind farm) those charged with keeping the lights on are worried.
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing is not alone in viewing UK government energy policy as a shambles. The decision to close all of the remaining coal fired power stations by 2023 has led to early closures as there is little value in investing in the maintenance of plant with so limited a lifespan. At the same time, the decision to end subsidies for renewables and carbon capture and storage projects before any of the replacement gas and nuclear plants have been built, leaves the UK vulnerable to electricity shortages in the very near future.
There is a very old proverb about not counting your chickens before they have hatched. This applies to Amber Rudd’s all or nothing dash for (fracked) gas. Thus far, no gas has actually been recovered from UK shale deposits; and there is good reason to believe that UK fracking will never be profitable. And despite US media hype about the giant US shale deposits containing a century of gas, US Energy Information Administration data shows that the US has just 8 years’ worth of recoverable shale gas – not enough to meet its own demand, still less that of an energy deficient UK.
So Britain is still on track to become the first European country to be carbon free. But it will not be in a planned and managed way; with hi-tech renewables coupled to energy storage systems saving the day. Instead, we will face ruinous energy shortages as coal disappears, nuclear and gas fails to materialise and the various renewables projects that might have mitigated the crisis fail for lack of government support.