UK must build new gas power plants or risk blackouts, minister warnson March 12, 2024 at 12:07 am

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Critics say a commitment to build new gas-fired power stations would threaten climate pledges.

The gas-fired Kings Lynn Power StationImage source, Getty Images

The UK risks blackouts unless it builds new, gas-fired power stations, Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho will warn today.

The new stations will replace existing plants, many of which are aging and will soon be retired.

But the government says the CO2 produced will not be captured – a measure which limits climate change.

That could threaten a legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, critics say.

The government said new gas power stations were needed to have a safe and reliable back up for days when renewables like wind and solar didn’t deliver. PM Rishi Sunak said he would not “gamble with our energy security”.

The decision is part of a wide-reaching review of how the UK’s energy market works.

But the Green Alliance think tank said it “flies in the face” of the government’s promise to reach zero-carbon electricity by 2035.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said falling North Sea output would leave the UK ever more dependent on foreign gas.

Labour accused the Tories of leaving the UK facing another 10 years of high energy bills, but acknowledged retiring gas-fired stations needed to be replaced.

Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said: “The reason the Tories cannot deliver the lower bills and energy security we need is that they are specialists in failure when it comes to our clean energy future: persisting with the ludicrous ban on onshore wind, bungling the offshore wind auctions, and failing on energy efficiency.”

Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said: “This is another step backwards on the critical road to net zero. We need to wean ourselves off this reliance on expensive fossil fuels by investing in cheap, clean renewable power and insulating every home.”

Energy security

The government did not give any details about when or where the new power stations would be built.

The government says the new plants will guarantee energy security, ensure low electricity prices in the future and “rids us of the need to rely on foreign dictators like Putin”.

It says it expects more and more of the UK’s electricity to come from renewable power in the future but says it cannot be relied on completely.

So, as existing gas power stations are retired, they will need to be replaced with new ones, better suited to the requirements of an increasingly decarbonised energy system.

The new plants will be capable of operating efficiently for just an hour or two at a time to fill in the gaps from other power sources, the government said.

The plan is they will be built by private investors.

The government said it will change the law to ensure the new plants would be capable of being retrofitted to burn hydrogen or to be fitted with carbon capture and storage technologies in the future.

The government says its plans are in line with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), its independent watchdog on climate.

The CCC has said a “small amount” of gas generation without carbon capture is compatible with a decarbonised power system.

It has estimated that might amount to 2% of annual electricity production.

But Liam Hardy, a senior policy advisor at the Green Alliance think tank, said the decision to build new gas plants without carbon capture “flies in the face” of the government’s promise to reach zero-carbon electricity by 2035″.

“Every new gas power plant built in the UK will make bills higher for consumers in the long run while increasing the risks of runaway climate change”, he said.

Greenpeace said the government’s plans would “make Britain more dependent on the very fossil fuel that sent our bills rocketing and our planet’s temperature soaring”.

“The only route to a low-cost, secure and clean energy system is through attracting massive private investment to develop renewables and upgrade our aging grid,” said Doug Parr, policy director at the campaign group.

Meanwhile Jess Ralston of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit warned that the new power plants would not reduce the UK’s dependence on foreign gas.

“The North Sea will continue its inevitable decline with or without new licenses leaving us ever more dependent on foreign gas unless we lower demand,” she said.

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