Net zero red tape to be ditched as Britain returns to coal

·4-min read
coal uk
coal uk

Fossil fuel power plants are set to be temporarily freed from planned checks on their emissions in a scramble to prevent blackouts as Britain turns back to coal.

Coal and gas stations providing back-up supply in 2023 will not have to get reports on their emissions signed off by an independent expert under changes being proposed by Whitehall officials.

There is growing concern over energy security amid fears Russia will shut off gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for sanctions imposed in response to its war on Ukraine.

The gradual retirement of the UK’s nuclear fleet in coming years as well as problems with France’s nuclear stations are adding to the pressure in energy markets.

Coal-fired plants have already been asked to stay open this winter, while gas quality rules could also be relaxed to allow more from the North Sea into Britain’s pipes.

Under rules from 2019, fossil fuel facilities bidding to take part in National Grid ESO’s market for back-up power supply have to declare their carbon emissions in line with limits.

The Government wants to make it compulsory for these declarations to be independently verified — a service expected to be carried out mostly by niche consultants — but there have been delays in getting enough people accredited to do the verification.

Officials are concerned that if independent verification is compulsory, some plants will not be able qualify to provide back-up supply for the winter of 2023-2024.

Officials now plan to postpone for a year the requirement to have emissions figures verified, meaning plants should be able to take part in the auction for 2023.

It marks the second time the requirement has been delayed.

In consultation papers, officials warned that failure to act could lead to lower competition which could trigger increased prices and “risks to security of supply”.

They added: “We consider this proposal would be a reasonable precaution to take.” The Government believes there is only a “low” risk that plants would falsify their emissions claims.

National Grid’s target for the amount of capacity they need to procure for the 2023-2024 back-up market is likely to be “stretching”, the officials said.

Officials also plan to change criteria to make it easier for mothballed power plants to take part in the market.

Britain does not buy much gas directly from Russia but there are concerns about a significant knock-on impact if Russia cuts off supplies to Europe.

Worst-case scenarios modelled in Whitehall indicate 6m households could face black-outs if this winter if that were the case.

National Grid is now developing plans under which potentially millions of households will be paid if they choose to cut their electricity use at peak times, lessening the strain on the system.

Under plans first reported by The Times, National Grid has asked power suppliers to indicate how many of their customers might shift usage out of peak times if they were paid to do so.

It follows trials with Octopus Energy this year.

National Grid said: “Demand shifting has the potential to save consumers money, reduce carbon emissions and offer greater flexibility on the system.”

A spokesperson for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy said: “The Government is carefully considering respondents’ views and will publish a response setting out next steps in due course.

“The UK has no issues with either gas or electricity supply and the government is fully prepared for any scenario, even those that are extreme and very unlikely to occur.”

It came as the Treasury hit back against claims that economic growth is incompatible with efforts to slash carbon emissions, after official statisticians bowed to demands from activists for more data.

The Office for National Statistics is piloting the release of climate figures alongside GDP data in a victory for activists critical of capitalism’s impact on the environment.

But Helen Whately, a Treasury minister, insisted that growth can co-exist with the drive to go green and ruled out including a “Net Zero test” at the Budget to assess the impact of tax and spending decisions on the climate.

Climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, have argued that the pursuit of economic growth is undermining the drive to cut emissions.

In a letter to fellow Tory MP Philip Dunne, the chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Ms Whately said: “GDP remains one of our most important economic indicators as it tends to be closely correlated with employment, incomes and tax receipts.”

She added that carbon emissions have dropped by 44pc since 1990, while the economy is 78pc bigger.