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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

New gas power plants needed to ‘reinforce’ energy supply – UK government


Aerial view over gas-fired power station facilities at sunset, with container terminal on horizon Photo: Adobe Stock
Aerial view of gas-fired power station in Marchwood, Hampshire, UK

Photo: Adobe Stock

The UK government has said it will support the building of new gas-fired power stations to replace existing plants that are ageing and soon to retire in order to ensure the country’s long-term energy security. In response, critics said the announcement runs counter to the UK’s commitment for a net zero electricity grid by 2035 and to phase out fossil fuels by 2050.

The government’s backing for the construction of new gas-fired power plants forms part of the second consultation on the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA). Under the plan, existing laws will be broadened, requiring new gas plants ‘to be built net-zero ready’ and able to be retrofitted to burn hydrogen or to be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in the future. The government noted that new gas power plants will ‘run less frequently as the UK continues to roll out other low-carbon technologies’.


Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho said: ‘There are no two ways about it. Without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts… There are no easy solutions in energy, only trade-offs… As we continue to move towards clean energy, we must be realistic.’


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak added: ‘Our record on net zero speaks for itself – the latest stats show that we’re already halfway there, with greenhouse gas emissions 50% lower than in 1990. But we need to reach our 2035 goals in a sustainable way that doesn’t leave people without energy on a cloudy, windless day. I will not gamble with our energy security.’


The consultation also includes proposals on ‘zonal pricing’ with the potential to reduce people’s bills across the country. Much of the UK’s energy generation capacity is located away from areas of high demand: for example, a quarter of the UK’s renewable energy is generated in Scotland. ‘Different wholesale prices could better match supply and demand and bring down costs for people across the country’, according to the government, which will consult on the proposals.


According to the government, the plans announced yesterday (12 March) are in line with the recommendations of its independent watchdog on climate, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which is reported to have said that a ‘small amount’ of gas generation without carbon capture (perhaps 2% of annual electricity production) is compatible with a decarbonised power system.


In support
Supporting the government’s announcement, Jon Butterworth, CEO at gas transmission company National Gas, said: ‘Gas will continue to play an important role in keeping the lights on, acting as a bridge to a clean power system and complimenting the growth of renewables.’ He also noted: ‘In order to deliver a net zero power system, we must develop flexible power technologies including hydrogen, and gas with carbon capture and storage.’


Guy Newey, CEO at Energy Systems Catapult, continued: ‘It is increasingly clear that the only way we can get to a net zero electricity system in time and without pushing up bills is to move to a market that reflects local supply and demand. It is an essential step forward to see government proposing stronger locational signals in the wholesale market through zonal pricing and a strong push for a smarter energy system.’


However, many criticised the government’s announcement, with the Green Alliance think tank arguing that the decision to build new gas plants without carbon capture ‘flies in the face’ of the government’s commitment to reach zero-carbon electricity by 2035.


Greenpeace UK’s Head of Politics Rebecca Newsom added: ‘This is not the way to deliver billions of pounds of private investment in a clean energy system fit for the future. Instead, the government must prioritise advancing technologies which can store renewable energy throughout the year, and set out clear policies to seek an end to unabated gas by 2035 at the latest.’


Meanwhile, Jess Ralston of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) 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 licences, leaving us ever more dependent on foreign gas unless we lower demand,’ she said.


Last, Andy Willis of Kona Energy, a clean energy development company currently grappling with grid connection delays, noted that: ‘On current grid connection processes any new gas stations would be at the back of the queue and therefore would not be connecting until at least 2037’. He said: ‘Regardless of the rights and wrongs of building new fossil-fuel powered generation, this story further underlines the desperate need for fundamental reform of how the grid connection process operates. It is simply not fit for purpose, and without doubt the biggest obstacle on our path to net zero.’