UK energy industry leader warns that lights could go out

Coal fired power station

This will be of little comfort. After one of the coldest springs on record, the cost of keeping your home warm is going to increase.

And not just this spring, but for many more springs to come.

Start Quote

Global gas price hikes are squeezing households”

End Quote Ed Davey MP Energy & Climate Change Secretary of State

Even the government accepts that.

"Global gas price hikes are squeezing households," admitted Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary of State. He's one of the influential Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

"They are beyond any government's control and, by all serious predictions, are likely to continue rising."

So what's the answer? Ed Davey claims our domestic fuel bills are already an average of £64 less because of a raft of energy and climate change measures already introduced. Think solar panels. Think wind farms. Think the government's so-called Green Deal.

But one leading figure in the energy industry has issued a warning to the government. She's Angela Knight, appointed last year as chief executive of the industry's trade body Energy UK.

She questions the government's decision to close UK coal-fired power stations when renewable energy - especially wind power - has yet to plug the energy gap.

Ed Davey Mr Davey says gas prices are beyond the control of the government

"If we are shutting down so many and haven't got a timetable to rebuild, we are heading for a very difficult pinch point," she said.

"That's why I want the Cameron government to focus on this problem.

"We can't shut down without opening up. If the lights go out, that would be a complete disaster."

Those comments will be welcomed by the country's coal industry and by the operators of the UK's coal-fired generators.

As a former Treasury minister in John Major's government, Angela Knight understands how public policy is shaped. She was also the MP for the Derbyshire marginal seat of Erewash and appreciates the historic and cultural links with coal in the East Midlands.

Start Quote

Coal produces 40% of our electricity and it's cheap”

End Quote Angela Knight Chief Executive, Energy UK

"Are energy prices going up and will they going to continue to go up? Yes. Why? Because we are dependent on the world price of gas, which is increasing, and we are shutting down our coal-fired power stations," she added.

"Coal produces 40% of our electricity and it's cheap.

"But we've got an emissions directive that is going to shut down a quarter of our coal-fired powers stations before 2020. Why are we closing them down?"

Angela Knight gives two reasons: EU directives on emissions are difficult to meet with so many coal-fired stations.

Legally bound

There's also a domestic political reason.

"In 2008, the Labour government put the targets into law and we have to legally meet standards against a timetable that is extraordinary quick."

"By 2020, we are legally bound to get 15% of our total energy from renewables. In effect that's translated into meaning 30% of all electricity production by 2020 have got to be produced by renewables."

She has an app on her iPad which shows how much power is generated for the national grid from the UK's renewables.

"Renewables sometimes work. Sometimes the wind blows."

"Sometimes, we can produce about 10%. But my little app tells me we are producing just 3% from renewables today."

Angela Knight Ms Knight says the UK is often producing just 3% of its energy from renewables

I met Angela Knight when she was back in Nottingham to address senior city Tories. She knows that any 'knocking' copy against the EU or wind farms will get a receptive hearing.

"How much are households prepared to pay for shutting down power stations because they thought 'going green' was touchy feely?" she told her audience.

Is shale gas an answer? Former coal field areas are thought to be rich in gas deposits deep underground. But extracting that gas through fracking - using high pressure water to fracture the rock - is controversial.

"Shale gas is going to be tricky to get at," she admits.

"But if we don't start looking now, we won't be able to determine how much there is."

Angela believes energy policy is forcing itself to the top of the political agenda. A recent survey of MPs showed they now regard the issue as important as crime and education.

With ever-rising domestic fuel bills, she wants a public debate on future energy policy. Any call for a public debate is usually a sign that the policy consequences could be rather unpalatable.

As Angela reminds her audience, the alternative is the lights going out.

John Hess Article written by John Hess John Hess Political editor, East Midlands

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Read full article


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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Coal, without carbon capture is the past - people want to lessen our impact on the planet and shutting down coal power stations is one of them.
    Is the government using joined up thinking - no. Industry will require more reserves of energy with the switch to renewables. The government has chosen gas to back up renewables. Policy without nationalization for energy shifts like this - impossible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Energy policy requires long time scale joined up thinking, renewables and nuclear all have a part to play. we are already 15 years too late with the nuclear option because of vested interests and indecision in government.

    All the plant required should be built by Britain itself and in the case of nuclear run by us to control prices.

    comment 1 spot on about "expertise"

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    We don't have a choice: we have to build more nuclear power stations NOW to meet our future baseline power requirements. We have the best engineers in the world. Unfortunately they are not adequately represented in parliament. The French have met this need.
    We also have water/hills for hydo schemes. Instead we pay vast financial incentives for uneconomic windfarms. Silly isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    64 pounds less
    the guy must be insane
    how do they keep getting away with these lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    We live in the Oil Age.
    Rejoice because it will not last.
    Rejoice! It will last us out.

    Oil/coal/gas is everything. Fertilizer. Warmth. Steel. Transport. Standard of living. Aluminium. Copper. Gold. Silicon. Air travel. Built environment. Space exploration. Photovoltaics. Education. Cement. Plastic. Carbon fibre. Food. Everything.
    Without petrochemicals all gone

    Dark ages will follow its demise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    new coal fired power stations with carbon capture, some new Collieries and the development of clean burn technology would put a lot of people back in work and they would be paying money back into the system instead of taking it out, the dash for gas long term is foolish according to the scientists gas will run out in about 50years,in Britain theres 200-300 years of coal to get at and its cheaper

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The trouble with our energy companies is that they are not in the business of investing in the infrastructure they are only in it for the profit,and with government dithering over how the power should be produced and running around like headless chickens advocating many impracticable methods of production, it wont be long be for we have power cuts and become a third world country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Its time that people stopped blaming the UK coal fired power stations for all the pollution,the car is doing far more damage than them, nuclear is to dangerous if not handled right and then theres the side effects like the radiation, The wholesale price of gas is just too high( pushed up by greed no doubt),so stop slagging coal off and develop ways of making it burn more efficiently and cleaner

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Not only will nuclear be towted as the only option available. The astronomical cost of energy will make nuclear power seem like a viable alternative. The Government do not really care who they hurt to do this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I think that the shutting of coal fired power stations is because the Government is forcing us all to go nuclear. Also traditionally tories hate anything coal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    And yet our ignorant PM, Cameron, prattles on about electric cars being the future.

    Ignorant because he clearly hasn't thought things through.
    The electricity has to come from somewhere.

    And if you venture out in a battery car in the winter you have a dilemma.
    No heater and you freeze and the windscreen mists, freezes. Cannot see where you are going.
    Use the heater and run the battery down..

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Energy conservation is the simple answer and the rest of policy must be effectivrly costs driven. A fundemental review of legacy policy is urgently required and someone who REALLY understands the political climate and was handed responsibility, is telling us and the government so.

    Energy policy is a disaster of ridiculous commitments.

    Renege Kyoto and commit simply to do our best.That is enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The strategies adopted previously were pi in the sky from complete idiots. 2.3 billiob people housing, heating and feeding themselves inChina with a huge industrial expansion, do not care one jot for the climate.

    Labour's stint in power has turned out now to have been an unfortunate economic disaster. Coal is the answer in part to our economic woes. Scargill is long gone our econmy following

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    They will only do something when beer pumps in the house of commons bar stop. Non science "educated" fools running energy policy - only claim to fame is having gone to Eton, useless degrees at Oxbridge in non subjects and then expect the engineers to pull some sort of miracle out of the hat with no money while pandering to EU ill informed green targets to appease their Lib Dem enviro weird beards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    In the late 80/90s I worked at the Fluidised Bed Experiment station in Grimethorpe which lead the world in clean-burn technology for coal. Along with the pit, this facility was shut down & the cooling tower blown up so that it could not be re-opened again.

    It's purpose was to investigate how to burn coal efficiently & cleanly, so as emissions did not pollute the atmosphere. A lost opportunity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Angela Knight is not an 'energy expert' She is a corporate lobbyist who previously defended bankers bonuses and LIBOR rigging in her role as CEO of Banking sector lobby group the British Bankers Association. [BBA]

    Furthermore Knight has only been in post at Energy UK 7 months and is in no way an 'energy expert'. She is CEO of an industry lobby group.

    The expert title is wrong, and misleading.



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