UK Energy and Climate Policy: SGR letter

Letter to Chris Huhne, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, 10 June 2010
 

Dear Mr Huhne

UK energy and climate policy

Congratulations on your new post as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

I am writing on behalf of Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK organisation of about 1000 science, design and technology professionals whose concerns include environmental sustainability and energy security. 

We would like to raise some broad issues with you at this time concerning the energy and climate change policies proposed by your government in the ‘Programme for Government’ and other recent announcements.

Improving energy efficiency and reducing energy demand

We are encouraged by the proposal for a new Energy Bill which would “deliver a nationalprogrammeof energy efficiency measures to homes and businesses”. This is an area which has received far too little action to date. The funding mechanisms set up by the previous government were inadequate to support the full range of cost-effective efficiency options. We urge you to follow the recommendations for policies and measures outlined by the Existing Homes Alliance1 and the Green Building Council2. Not only would these bring major environmental benefits, they also have the potential to generate many tens of thousands of new jobs – more per unit of investment than any other set of policies within the energy and climate change arena. This, of course, is key in the current economic climate. 

However, it is not enough just to increase energy efficiency. We also believe a key priority for your Department should be enact policies to reduce energy demand overall – by, for example, targeting profligate energy consumption. Controlling energy demand is the surest way to reducing environmental impacts and improving energy security in a resource-constrained world. Such an approach would also help reduce the potential for international conflict over, for example, diminishing supplies of oil and gas.

Expanding renewable energy

We also welcome the commitment of your government to support a major expansion of renewable energy. We urge you to increase the 2020 target for the proportion of energy from renewable resources, not least because the previous government underestimated the potential for small-scale renewable technologies and the potential for reducing energy demand. Related to this, we are disturbed by the lack of any mention in the ‘Programme for Government’ of the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive for small-scale technologies. Like the Feed-In Tariff for small-scale electricity, this is a very important funding mechanism to help support a neglected sector.

The proposals for a ‘smart grid’ will be important in integrating variable renewable energy sources into the system. The ability to utilise a large proportion of renewables would be further strengthened by strong grid connections to mainland Europe and the development of a European supergrid, as shown in the Offshore Valuation report to which you referred in a recent speech. The commitment to a national recharging network for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles will also complement the expansion of variable renewable energy technologies, and reduce oil dependence.

We also urge you to enact a major increase – at least tenfold – in the proposed government funding of R&D on renewable energy, especially marine technologies where the UK is a world leader. Not only would this help provide longer-term environmental and energy security benefits, it would yield major employment benefits due to the high labour intensity of this sector. A funding increase of this magnitude could, we believe, come from cuts in the government’s military R&D budget which – at about £2.5 billion – is far higher than government R&D spending in key areas such as energy, health or environmental protection.3

Nuclear power

We agree with the Liberal Democrats that new nuclear build is not desirable. The security and environmental problems of this technology are serious, and the economics are highly questionable.

In particular, we believe that the government should stick to its pledge to ensure that the nuclear industry does not benefit from public subsidies. As such, the nuclear industry should:

  • pay the full costs of radioactive waste management and eventual disposal. Proposals such as offering an upfront ‘Fixed Unit Price’ for waste disposal shift the financial risk from industry to the government and should be abandoned.
  • pay the full commercial insurance costs. The government should abandon the guarantee of an upper limit for insurance costs that the industry would have to pay in the event of a major accident. 

We also believe that the current consultation and approval processes for new nuclear power stations are deeply flawed. For example, the safety assessment of the proposed reactor designs has yet to be completed, and the radioactive waste management strategy has yet to be agreed. But despite this the previous government seemed ready to take a decision on ‘Justification’ as required under EU law. To give the go-ahead without completion of the safety and waste assessments leaves the government open to legal challenge. The decision should be delayed at least until these have been completed, even though this would delay the start of construction of new plants. 

We would also like to point out that nuclear power creates considerably fewer jobs per megawatt of energy generation than renewable energy technologies.4

Climate change and other issues

We would also particularly like to comment on a number of your government’s other policies as follows.

  • We welcome the commitment to push for an increase in the EU target for carbon emissions reduction by 2020 – but also urge you to strengthen further the UK’s own national target.
  • We welcome the cancellation/ refusal of proposals for airport expansion around London – but urge you to make this a nationwide policy.
  • We welcome the setting up of a ‘green investment bank’.

In conclusion, we strongly support efforts to ensure energy and climate change issues are a central component of this government’s agenda. There are major social and economic benefits, as well as the more obvious environmental ones, which will be forthcoming if these efforts are successful.

Sincerely

Dr Stuart Parkinson

Executive Director

Notes

1. For example, see: http://www.existinghomesalliance.org/new_call_2010.php

2. For example, see: http://www.ukgbc.org/site/document/download/?document_id=760

3. Dept of Innovation, Universities and Skills (2007). Science, engineering and technology (SET) statistics. 

4. New Economics Foundation (2005). Mirage and oasis: Energy choices in an age of global warming. http://neweconomics.org/