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UK warned against carbon emissions budget review that could trigger dash for gas

08 Oct 2013 13:36:11 | esgm

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The UK government has been warned not to water down its carbon emissions reduction targets for 2023-2027 – a move that could clear the way for a new “dash for gas” in power generation, dependent on the severity of any cuts to the targets.

The cross-party environmental audit committee said on Tuesday, 8 October, in its latest progress report on carbon budgets that there were “too many uncertainties at the moment to warrant reviewing and making any changes” to the fourth carbon budget, which covers the five-year period.

The government is to review the fourth budget next year, a move that some see as a prelude to a cut in stringency, potentially paving the way for the construction of more combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs), or at least allowing for heavier load factors across gas-fired power plants than would otherwise be permitted.

Tim Yeo, the former chair of the parliamentary energy committee, previously said the UK’s gas generation strategy, published late last year ( see EDEM 5 December 2012 ), suggested that the purpose of the review was “to water it [the budget] down and weaken incentives for low-carbon investment”.

And now the government is facing further pressure from pro-green factions across parliament to resist any urge to water down the targets.


Carbon intensity

A 50gCO2/kWh carbon intensity target for the power generation sector in 2030, which the government has been advised to install, would allow for investment in just 10GW of unabated gas-fired power plants over the next two decades, resulting in total gas-fired capacity of around 30GW in 2030 running at low annual load factors of less than 10% ( see EDEM and ESGM 4 June 2013 ).

The environmental committee’s long-standing view is that the fourth carbon budget represents the minimum emissions reductions needed to ensure that the UK’s legally binding 2050 emissions reduction target is met, and that any loosening of the budget following next year’s review “would put achieving that target in jeopardy”.

The carbon budgets, which each cover a five-year period, are split into a “traded sector”, based on the UK’s share of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) limit covering power and heavy industry, and a “non-traded sector” covering road transport, agriculture and buildings.

When the 2023-2027 targets were put in place, it was assumed that emissions would be greater than they are now likely to be, because the full impact on demand by the 2008 crisis had yet to be known.

The traded sector is therefore set to hit its emissions reduction goal as defined by the EU ETS, the committee’s report said, but this will leave a large shortfall against UK targets that the non-traded sector will have to make up. Jamie Stewart

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