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Star Comment: Coal’s role in energy future

End to onshore wind turbine subsidies shows lack of Tory principle

So much for David Cameron’s never to be taken seriously claim that his government would be the greenest ever.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon’s pledge to end subsidies for onshore wind turbines if the Tories win the next election exposes his party’s lack of principle.

It’s difficult to take seriously Fallon’s assessment that Britain has met its renewable energy commitments “and there’s no requirement for any more.”

This indicates that, for the Tories, the need to invest in renewable energy was never more than tactical.

Meeting the minimum requirement for 2020 agreed by countries in Europe should be the first hurdle to surmount, not the culmination of Britain’s efforts.

Fallon insists on his commitment to cutting carbon emissions in Britain but not if it has to be subsidised by the state or consumers.

This means expecting private companies to invest in renewables, which they are unlikely to do given the short-termism that dominates British capitalism.

The private sector wants the burden of risk carried by the government, guaranteeing corporate shareholders’ investment security and future dividends.

If bold capitalist entrepreneurs are not prepared to invest their own wealth — or persuade others to back their plans — it makes no sense to sink public funds into long-term schemes simply so they can be milked by these timid speculators.

Private ownership and operation of energy provision has been a disaster in Britain for all bar the tiny percentage of major shareholders.

But the issues of adequate levels of provision and commitment to reducing fossil fuel emissions are too important to be ignored or sidelined.

There is no contradiction between backing major state investment in alternative means of energy generation and exploiting the two centuries worth of coal deposits that lie beneath our feet.

Opting to prioritise renewables in the long term while making use of a readily available natural asset would ensure that the lights are kept on and that cutting-edge alternative technology could guarantee cheaper energy in the long term. It would also mean that nuclear power, with its ever-present problem of dangerous radioactive waste, could be phased out.

No-one wants to see a return to the old technology of widespread burning of coal in individual homes and factories, which contributed to massive smog problems.  But making use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which has already been trialled in a number of countries, could offer cheap power and security of supply.

Both renewables and carbon capture and storage require large amounts of state investment, but this should not be an excuse to rule this out.

Government already subsidises nuclear power to a huge degree, especially with regard to picking up the tab for future problems caused by waste.

The nuclear industry has succeeded in presenting itself, falsely, as somehow green, but this ignores the carbon footprint involved in building nuclear power stations and mining uranium.

Some opponents of reactivation of Britain’s coalfields cite the emissions of coal-fired power stations.

However, leaving coal in the ground is futile since the energy companies still import over 40 million tons annually from Russia, Poland, Colombia and Australia.

Failure to prioritise new CCS-based coal-fired stations will encourage the Tories to portray nuclear or fracking shale gas as the only games in town.

Energy security and environmental concerns dictate that schemes motivated primarily by private profit must give way to publicly owned enterprises that put people first.


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