Friday, 22 June 2018

How the Committee on Climate Change gave the Government dud advice

The Climate Change Act has been celebrating its 10th anniversary, but there is surprisingly little to celebrate in the earlier advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The CCC is the body created to advise the Government on the achievement of the carbon reduction commitments (80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050). You would expect the advice of the CCC to speed the Government's low carbon programme, but in the crucial aspect of electricity supply policy it has (in the past) actually damaged it!

Looking back on its past, it looks like the Committee gave completely the wrong advice to the Government, advice which, alas, they still seem to be following now. 

In particular, in the 'Renewable Energy Review' issued in 2011 (1) (which I criticised at the time), the CCC, urged the Government to cut back the targets for offshore wind and instead focus on nuclear power. They told the Government not to be put off by the Fukushima disaster that had happened earlier that year. According to the Times Report on May 9th 2011 ''The Committee on Climate Change says heavy reliance on offshore wind could result in unacceptable increases in fuel bills.' (2) David Kennedy, the then Chief Executive of CCC said that 'Nuclear looks like it will be the lowest cost for the next decade or two'. Indeed the Review stated that nuclear power was currently 'the most cost effective of the low carbon technologies' (1). That conclusion, given the cost of onshore wind, was highly challengable at the time, especially as given the existing record of nuclear power plant that had been built in the UK and the roll-out of onshore wind. Whereas the deployment of renewable energy has soared ahead, despite the best efforts of many in the Conservatives to block it, nuclear power plans set out in 2010 have proved to be fantasy. And, of course, offshore wind costs have tumbled rapidly making the CCC's earlier pronouncements looking especially silly.

As the Times report of May 9th 2011 stated ''Before the Fukushima disaster the Government had been planning to build 12 new reactors on seven sites by 2025'.  Of course there is no chance that there will be even one reactor by then, let alone 12. The only deal signed so far, Hinkley C, has been achieved at great cost to the British electricity consumer. The scheme only survives because the French taxpayer already has stumped up several billions to subsidise the deal. No doubt more will be needed further down the line more as cost overruns escalating as they always do (and no doubt British taxpayers ending up with further commitments to finish the job). A deal is being discussed for the Wylfa project with Hitachi that will see British taxpayers 'invest' in the project (as well as paying high premium prices for the power in their electricity bills) that will make them liable for a large chunk of the almost inevitable costs overruns.

Yet onshore wind and solar pv projects that can be delivered at no extra cost to the consumer are being denied  contracts for differences that would deliver the power much, much more cheaply for taxpayers and electricity consumers than nuclear power. The Government seems in no hurry either to prepare for new offshore windfarms which are now much cheaper to deliver than new nuclear power.

The UK has been relatively successful in reducing its carbon emissions. Indeed, according to Carbon Brief (3) the UK has reduced its emissions by 38 per cent compared to 1990. That is due to a reduction in electricity use this century (partly a result of energy efficiency policies), more energy efficient buildings, and a switch away from coal to gas and renewable energy. Renewable energy has grown, as a proportion of electricity supply, from 1 per cent in 1990 to around 30 per cent today. By 2020 this will be close to 35 per cent. Most of this increase has occurred this century having being kickstarted by the last Labour Government, especially under Ed Miliband who set out some ambitious plans for offshore wind which were later cutback in the context of the disastrous advice from the CCC.  

In more recent times, at least, the CCC, has been a bit more positive for renewables, and indeed Lord Deben, the Chair, has recently chided the Government on its lack of incentives for onshore wind. The CCC has a new CEO in the shape of Chris Stark whose previous job was Director of Climate Policy for the Scottish Government. At least we shouldn't get any disastrous advice from him!

(1) Committee on Climate Change (2011) 'Renewable Energy Review',

(2), Webster, B., (2011) 'Set Aside fears and build reactors not wind turbines says climate watchdog', Times, May 9th 

(3) Carbon Brief (2018) 'Analysis: How UK carbon emissions fell to their lowest levels since 1890',

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