As the United Kingdom pursues fracking as a solution to its energy independence, new analysis finds the country’s power sector can reduce its reliance on gas from 40% to 1% by 2030, with a rapid renewables switch bringing £93 billion (C$142 billion) in savings.
“Britain’s extraordinary offshore wind resource and the rapid cost reduction in the technology gives an opportunity to phase out expensive gas imports from the power system this decade, and quickly enjoy the benefits of a cheaper domestic energy supply,” writes the Ember climate think tank in a recent report.
“With abundant and cheap offshore wind, the UK has an opportunity to move even faster in the power sector whilst driving economic growth,” said Ember’s chief operating officer Phil MacDonald.
“Rapidly reducing dependence on expensive gas power will enhance the UK’s energy security and geopolitical security—and bring down spiralling energy bills for households and businesses.”
Carbon Brief found that the UK’s gas imports would already be 13% lower, had successive Conservative-led governments not “cut the green crap,” as then-PM David Cameron told ministers to do in 2013. This saving would have been nearly twice as large as the total gas imports from Russia last year, Carbon Brief says, courtesy of additional onshore wind and solar capacity that could have cut gas demand for electricity by 20%.
Public support for the UK to transition to clean energy sources is high. New polling found most respondents would “be proud of voting” for a party that prioritized clean energy policies like boosting renewables (78%) and insulation in homes (72%). Only 29% said they would proud of voting for a party supporting large-scale fracking, and 48% said they would be embarrassed by doing so, reports Opinium for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
Truss Favours Gas, Blocks Renewables
Yet Truss’s government is moving in the opposite direction. Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg recently lifted the country’s moratorium on fracking for shale gas, established due to concerns about earthquakes and seismic activity. Rees-Mogg said the UK needs to revisit the seismic limits to ensure that shale gas extraction can be done in an “effective and efficient way,” reports Reuters.
Truss sees fracking as part of the solution for UK energy self-reliance, and her government says fracked gas could be available for consumers within six months. But campaigners say lifting the fracking ban won’t do much to lower energy bills, while industry leaders estimate it could be 12 to 18 months before the gas is available, due to delays from permitting regulations.
“That is why I am sceptical about the pace,” petroleum geologist Richard Davies told The Independent. “These are resources, not reserves. I don’t know why our government is so sure it can be done [in six months].”
But Truss’s government is intent on pushing forward on fracking, willing to back out of a campaign pledge to seek local consent before starting projects. Instead, Rees-Mogg’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is considering designating fracking sites as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) that can bypass normal local planning requirements which typically apply to infrastructure like roads, airports, and energy sites, the Guardian says.
The idea is already receiving pushback from ministers, but Rees-Mogg has refused to commit to letting local communities blacklist fracking projects. Instead, he stated that people nearby would be “compensated.”
Campaign groups in fracking areas are preparing to protest over concerns about earthquakes and worries about noise and disruptive infrastructure affecting house values.
“We need to be clear what’s at stake here: not just the environment, but the democratic right of the public to object to its destruction,” said Tom Fyans, the interim chief executive of the countryside charity CPRE. The plan also leaves UK’s net-zero plans “in tatters,” he added.
At the same time, the government is planning to undercut solar farm development by including middling-to-low value land—classified as 3b, where solar farms are most often sited—in the definition of “best and most versatile” land that is reserved for agriculture.
The change aligns with a campaign promise from Truss to block solar farms on farmland, though BEIS ministers oppose it for contradicting their stance to deregulate both the oil and gas and the renewable energy industries. The move would ban solar from 41% of the land area in England, or roughly 58% of total agricultural land. Much of the remaining agricultural land is in upland areas not suitable for solar development, the Guardian says.
“If the government goes ahead with blocking solar energy, it will be yet more unilateral energy disarmament from a government that has a 12-year record of driving up bills by blocking clean power,” said Ed Miliband, the Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero.
Truss has also ignored government climate advisors’ plans for an energy efficiency campaign this winter, which the Labour Party says could save households up to £8.4 billion (C$12.8 billion). BEIS had prepared a public information campaign to help homeowners cut energy costs during what is expected to be a difficult winter, but Truss is reported to have been “ideologically opposed” to the campaign, fearing it would be too interventionist, says BBC.
Lord Deben, a former Conservative environment secretary and current chair of the Climate Change Committee, is calling for measures to bring down energy bills and says it isn’t too late to start insulating homes, writes The Guardian.
“What we have to do for net-zero is what we have to do for the cost-of-living crisis,” he said in an interview. “And when people say we can’t afford net-zero, we frankly can’t afford not to go for net-zero. That’s where the Climate Change Committee has been so critical of the government, because we ought to have a major policy for improving people’s homes.”
Truss’ climate and energy policies leave the country in a poor position to meet its net-zero targets and threaten to dismantle any progress the UK made from hosting last year’s COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, the Guardian says.
“Our plan for clean power by 2030 will save the British people £93 billion off their energy bills and break the UK’s vulnerability to Putin and his cronies,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer, who pledged to turn the UK into a clean energy “superpower”.
“It will also support our drive for higher growth and rising living standards.”