Fri, Jul 21, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Sad but true: It's all thumbs down for the UK energy review

The British government has revealed its new plans for energy, but the experts believe it failed to deliver on sustainability, climate change and a host of other criteria


It is no surprise that the nuclear industry, its friends in the construction industry and the unions approved of the UK government's energy review last week.

But among those who know about the environment, energy, finance or the behavior of companies and individuals, there were few who thought that the second energy review in three years in any way laid a platform for Britain to meet its climate change targets and to keep the lights on. Indeed, a consensus has emerged that nuclear power is completely irrelevant to the real debate that must be had about sustainability.

"The idea that we are facing an enormous energy gap that only nuclear power can fill has been a classic case of spin," said Robert Napier, chief executive of WWF. "This review admits that, at best, just one nuclear reactor could be up and running by 2020. It only reaffirmed its existing 20 percent target for renewables by 2020."

This was not an energy review, said the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. Rather, it was a review of big electricity generation, which ignored transport and heating, the two great generators of carbon dioxide emissions.

"The review had the traditional over-emphasis on large, centralized and big power supply using conventional engineering," said Kevin Anderson, director of the center's energy program.

"Electricity provides just 18 percent of the UK's final energy consumption, with nuclear providing only 3.6 percent of UK energy. The review neglected the other 82 percent of UK energy use. Replacing ageing nuclear plants with new nuclear stations has an irrelevant impact on targets for reducing UK's carbon dioxide," he added.

Tyndall -- along with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other organizations -- was scathing about the government's claims that the review would address climate change targets.

"This review cannot be reconciled with the UK government's repeated commitment to ... cut carbon dioxide by 60 percent by 2050," said Anderson.

What was needed, he said, was an assessment of all the energy sectors. As it was, transport was neglected, again, and saving energy remained the Cinderella issue.

While the review was peppered with references to energy efficiency, there was widespread disappointment that no real policies were outlined, and no imagination was employed to come up with new ideas.

"Using energy more efficiently must be the cornerstone of any solutions," said Paul Allen, development director at the Center for Alternative Technology, who urged a massive energy rethink program, such as super-insulating all existing homes in Britain.

British Gas welcomed the market route to energy supply, but said the government had failed to grasp the opportunity to put forward eye-catching incentives for individuals.

"There are 9 million homes with insufficient insulation wasting ?1 [US$1.48] in every ?3 of their energy," said Mark Clare, its managing director.

This was emphasized by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), which represents housing professionals. It regretted that the emphasis on new developments in the review meant that the government was missing an open goal to save energy and greenhouse emissions.

going green

"New construction accounts for only 2 percent of the housing stock ... a staggering 3.7 million homes are insufficiently insulated and cost owners a great deal to heat. More attention needs to be given to vulnerable households in existing private sector housing -- those who can least afford to `go green,'" said Sarah Webb, CIH policy director.

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