East Midlands Green Party Blog


Leave a comment

What a Gas – Digging for Truth

In this final piece for November’s Focus on Energy, Mike Shipley from Derbyshire Speaks:

UCG, the Underground Coal Gamble

I heard something very interesting from a man who came to check my gas meter.  He told me that the Government was not allowing new housing development to be connected up to the gas mains, because gas was in short supply.  Yet Gideon Osbourn has said that 30 new gas fired power stations are to be built in the UK.

So what does Gideon know that he’s not yet telling the house builders?  We suspect that fracking is not going to be the gas bonanza that the industry is hyping it up to be.  With it unproven in the UK, building our energy future on  frack-gas would be reckless even by the standards of the ConDem Coalition. But, gambler Osbourn holds two cards in his hand, and at least one of them he believes is trumps.

This second card is Underground Coal Gasification, UCG.  An unproven technology designed to use proven reserves.  Britain’s wealth was built on coal and some believe that King Coal is about to come back from the dead and endow great riches for a select few.  All private wealth, most of which will head off shore so as not to bother the tax man too much.

The Government is currently issuing licences for UCG to private companies. That is, they are handing over a national resource to private developers with no discussion as to whether this is in our collective interest. These  are described as ‘Conditional Licences’, and are available on application for a very modest fee.  The companies that are taking the licences are mostly overseas registered and have no prior experience in UCG.  Indeed experience with this technology is scant, most pilots to date have ended in either financial or technical failure.

UCG involves the partial combustion of coal where it lies, using high pressure steam and oxygen.  A combustible mixture of methane and carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide known as syngas is then forced back to the surface for further processing.  A joint EU project in Spain that the UK [under Labour] helped to finance exploded and was abandoned.  An Australian venture suffered a similar fate and the Queensland Government put a moratorium on further developments.  But, desperate to find the fuel for their gas powered energy future, the ConDems have flung the UK’s doors open to this unproven technology to be handled by inexperienced companies.  Recipe for Disaster?

In terms of energy policy this is a disaster that we will have to pay for with rising bills and footing any insurance claims made against the bankrupted companies who will walk away from their failure.  But in terms of wealth creation, it is set to be bonanza time.  Development costs will be largely paid for by the tax payer. The new energy companies will be floated with glossy prospectuses and, having Government backing they will draw in high levels of venture capital, their executives and share holders – often the same people, getting huge bonuses and dividends.  If the technology works and the UK’s coal reserves can be gasified, the potential revenue is huge, but this will not be used to build a sovereign fund, as Norway did with its North Sea oil, but will be used to enrich the already wealthy.

Is opposition to UCG just sour grapes because some people will get very rich?  No, our opposition to it is because it is a fossil fuel that will accelerate Climate Change and leave a clean up legacy that we will all have to pay for.  Paying lip service to the UK’s climate change commitments to reduce Carbon emissions, the Government is telling the companies involved, that they must capture the carbon dioxide produced. Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS] is another unproven technology and the UK’s only pilot project at Longannet in Scotland closed because no one was prepared to pay for it.  So the industry won’t be expected to use what isn’t available, and anyway CCS is only expected if the gas is used to generate electricity.  If the gas is used for other purposes, to make liquid fuels for examples, then CCS will not be required.  Therefore UCG  releasing carbon dioxide in the syngas  and also when the syngas is burned. Its warming potential will end up being the same as burning the coal in power stations.  It is not a clean technology, once again the Government is being deliberately misleading about the full impact of its energy strategy.  It is failing to address Climate Change and failing to secure affordable energy for all. It’s real focus is on economic growth, at any cost, and  private wealth creation.

Because of the high global value of liquid fuels and the growing uncertainty about oil reserves, the real plan for UCG gas is for liquid fuel. That is the big prize.  Moreover, in the interests of profit, it will be sold on the open market to the highest bidder – and that will not be the average British subject. And if this is the outcome, where, we might ask, is Gideon going to get his gas from for his 30 power stations?  Where we get it from now, on the open market, where prices will be for ever rising.  This Government’s energy policy and its dash for gas builds in continual price rises for the domestic customer and does nothing to address fuel poverty.

Mr Osbourn is indeed a gambler.  He is staking everything on getting the economy growing again. Growth is the only policy he has, and growth needs energy.  He totally fails to realise that in a world of declining resources and changing climate, conventional growth fuelled by conventional fuels can no longer be sustained.  We now live at a time of transition, forced upon us by our over exploitation of global resources in the name of growth and wealth creation.  This Government is failing to acknowledge this fact and is recklessly gambling with our future by desperately throwing the last fossil fuel card onto the table.  It may pay out for a minority, who will take the money and run, leaving the mess that they have created for us to clean up.

This blog was inspired by Mel Kelly’s article ‘Theft of Austerity Britain’s Coal’ published by frackingfreeireland.org.  My thanks to Danni Saxton-Turtle for additional research

[Mike Shipley November 2013]


Leave a comment

Another Voice on Energy

In the finale of our month’s focus on energy a post written by John Youatt

Energy, the people and the planet

We depend on energy, In our daily lives, in business in our leisure time, we use energy and all too often we take it for granted.  Understandably people get cross if the power fails, or if the fuel they want gets too expensive.  Governments know this and energy policy focuses on security of supply and affordability.  The ConDem Government will claim that this is exactly what it is doing.  It is backing nuclear and a big push for gas to ‘keep the lights on’ as they keep saying, and the Tories want to scrap the green levies to keep prices down.  But this is all short term thinking, it is not costing in the full impacts of a nuclear-fossil fuel energy strategy, it is more about winning the next election than securing safe and affordable energy for the next generation.

UK is rightly and legally committed to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and into the sea, by  15% by 2020 and by 50% by 2050. These are the minimum to avoid massive harm by erratic warming, melting, and climate chaos. Science says that, to achieve these targets, most ancient carbon (oil, coal and gas) must be left in the ground, and/or the carbon must be captured and returned to the ground.

It is tehnically possible to achieve these targets in the UK and internationally by carbon capture, and by harvesting wind, wave, sea current, solar and biomass energy. It’s unnecessary to look for more.

We now know beyond any remaining doubt (Cameron in the lower house October 2013), that the Tory-driven coalition government is determined to stay in power in 2015, by appealing to voters by short-term cost cutting: and by satisfying the right wing and global capital by massive investment in the unsafe carbon based technologies. This is a disastrous policy framework both for the majority of people and for the planet since it builds in rising prices and carbon emissions. It fails to establish a clear framework to support the development of sustainable renewable energy.

In the light of the science and even of the full economics of energy and climate change, (Stern), it beggar belief that any sane or logical government would be so stupid as to turn their back on renewable energy and back unsustainable fossil and nuclear. But we need to remember that, the carbon pirates are highly  persuasive, because of the massive power of the global capital invested in carbon by organisations and powerful individuals.

The UK is very well endowed with  renewable sources of energy, even solar, and we might think that the Government would grab the enormous opportunity presented to it, but it doesn’t.  Instead it does all it can to load the dice against renewables in favour of fossil and nuclear.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, set up by Ed Milliband, raised the profile of climate change to primary cabinet level for the first time. Ed noted Germany’s Greens’-inspired successes, including the winding down of nuclear power and the use of tariffs and taxes to encourage renewables. Germany now has 300,000  jobs in renewable energy and already exceeds it’s 20% renewable target for 2020. The coalition government and Cameron, its PR spinner, works relentlessly to blame energy prices on green taxes through a compliant media, and is threatening to scrap them.  The Government and its media poodles regularly attack investments in energy saving that really help households and ignore the reality of global price rises for fossil fuels.  They also ignore the profits and dividends of the big energy companies that are effectively a cartel. Price rises by one are followed within a few days by similar rises by the others. Yet smaller energy companies  eg Good Energy (100% green) don’t get the support they need.

Despite the fact that the science clearly states that to avoid dangerous climate change – a global temperature rise of 2ºC, the Government annually pours over £2 billion in subsidies and tax breaks into the fossil fuel sector.  In addition it is backing extreme energies like fracking and Underground Coal Gasification with big tax breaks paid for by all of us.  And if all this wasn’t enough to rub fossilised salt in to our green wounds, the Government is now backing a new generation of nuclear power stations, built by French and Chinese state owned companies who will earn guaranteed profits paid for by us who will also have to clean up the mess of the abandoned reactors in 30 years time.

Government energy policy is leaving a dangerous legacy of rising bills, reliance on dwindling fossil and uranium supplies and a nuclear clean up bill that will dwarf the profits made. Green policy would end this nonsense.  Because we all depend on energy, its supply should not be used as a means to make massive private profits. Green policy to promote renewables and scale down fossil and nuclear, would secure a sustainable supply for now and for the future that will enable all to afford energy that does not represent a long term threat to the well being for either the people or the planet.

© John Youatt for DGP October 2103

Here is a brief account of the good energies – good for people and for our planet:

Solar energy 1            (Solar electric or PV panels; solar thermal panels; air, ground or water source heat pumps; thermodynamic panels; electric-to-heat-store transfer).

All arms of this industry have grown exponentially since Ed Milliband set up DECC. All take energy direct from the sun. They are supported by tariffs which have survived Government cuts, but have been atrociously managed by the coalition, jealous of the diversion of funds from the fossil fuel economy. Solar panels, despite the lack of Government support remain good value, whether funded from personal savings, from business plans or as rental installations.

Solar energy 2 : Biomass

Virtually all biomass can return photosynthetic energy from the sun as heat and/or electrical energy.  The main technologies are anaerobic digestion (AD); incineration of mixed wastes; and growing crops for oil, usually in place of food.  Huhne was this time not lying when he placed AD as the best of this bunch in the coalition agreement. AD is a managed natural process like brewing that produces heat, electricity and nutrients from material that would have gone to ground. The AD nutrients replace expensive high energy artificial fertilisers and reduce poisoning of ground waters. Wood burning as log or chip works locally, however the jury is out on large scale wood burning because of processing and haulage costs. Sadly, big business conned local authorities into signing 25 year contracts for incineration, which requires huge waste miles, and is far less beneficial than AD, and reduces recycling.  Greens do not support incineration.

Solar energy 3  Solar power stations .

Technically these have to be big, requiring low value land space and strong sunlight. They are not for low-sun, high-density states such as most of the EU, but could be good news for the Sahel region, provided a mutually benefit deal can be developed between the EU and the host nation.

Wind

There are broadly two categories of wind power generation

  • individual machines, usually of small to medium size, designed to meet the energy use where they stand (eg c.100kW capacity/25m height for a large dairy farm or 250kw/35m for a village). check These micro generators also save transmission costs (up to 20% in centralised generation) check by using networks ‘in the opposite direction’.
  • large machines, now typically 2mW/ 50m check often in groups or ‘arrays’ of up a hundred on land or out to sea.

They are both highly desirable components of the UK and world wide energy mix.

The Tories are obsessed by hatred of wind turbines in the landscape and of state support being given to them. It is true that there are extremes of views from moving sculptures, even ‘objects of grace and desire’; to a blot on a beloved landscape. Unfortunately the ‘antis’ use lies and spin to make their case, ignoring the absolute need for wind power in the UK energy mix, and their hatred, bred largely by big poorly designed and over greedy windfarms, leaks into the mindset and infects reactions to well designed schemes.  As a result, investors are discouraged and go abroad, and the UK has missed out on being a world leader in wind technology.

 

Waves and sea currents         It was of course Maggie that took against research into sea power why?  Ever so slowly, too slowly, investment is now going ahead, from private and public sources, into sea-current and wave power.

 

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)   Not a renewable energy technology, but a means of cutting carbon emissions enabling us to use fossil reserves as  bridging fuels to secure energy supply while the renewable system is developed. If carbon capture works (it’s technically and geographically possible, the doubt is cost) CCS should be promoted. A failure to do the research in the 1980’s was another of Maggie’s bad mistakes, this time perhaps allied to her war with the miners. Sadly, ‘clean coal’ is still part of the Tories hang ups. Carbon generators are still being promoted in the UK and world wide, without a precondition to install and retro fit CCS, and research into the technology has again stalled.


1 Comment

Extreme Energy – Extreme Risk

water on fire - chemicals in fracking

water on fire – chemicals in fracking

 

Continuing as part of this month’s focus on energy policy, Derbyshire’s indomitable Mike Shipley has written this post:

 

Extreme Energy – Extreme Risk.

 

Even though Governments and the oil industry will not admit it, the world has passed peak oil production.  This is important information that we should be informed about in order for us to be involved in the decisions necessary about our energy supply in the years to come.  But with so much investment and share value tied to oil and fossil reserves, the industry, financial sector and the governments they control are keeping quiet, behaving as if it’s all ‘business as usual.’  The markets do not like change, confirmation of peak oil from ‘reliable sources’ would send jitters through the market and weaken investor confidence in the dominant fossil sector.  Very rich people would find their investments and therefore their wealth, devalued.

 

So we don’t hear about ‘Peak Oil’ except from scientists and Greens, and they aren’t seen as ‘reliable sources’ by the market.  But it’s what the industry is doing that gives the game away.  The easy so called conventional oil and gas on land or in shallow water,  is running out.  Why else is this conservative ultra cost conscious industry investing so heavily in hard to win reserves known as ‘extreme energy’?  They are investing in high cost, high risk exploration, trying to find fossil reserves that will reassure the markets that fossil carbon remains a good investment.  These explorations include the very deep water drilling, up to 3 kilometres down,  off the coast of Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico, the mining  of Canadian tar sands, mountain top removal for coal in the Appalachians, fracking and underground coal gasification [UCG] that is about to be launched in the UK.

 

These sources of energy, to which we can add nuclear, because of the uninsurable risk associated with nuclear accidents – come with a high price tag.  The technology needed is either in an early stage of development or it is being stretched well beyond its design capacity, as happened with the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the gulf of Mexico. Because of this the risk associated with extreme energy is much greater than with either conventional energy sources or with renewables.  However the industry will do everything it can to transfer this risk from its balance sheet to the customer and then the taxpayer as the insurer of last resort.  One way or another we will pay a high pricer for extreme energy.

 

Even if risk costs are externalised, that is: passed on to the community and tax payer, the cost of  bringing extreme energy to market remains high and will increase as reserves become more difficult to find.  For this reason the price of energy from fossil fuels will continue to rise in to the future.  The big six energy companies will use their dominant market position to protect their profits and therefore share and dividend value.  The age of cheap fossil energy is over and the only way prices of fossil energy can be brought down is through Government subsidy.  This is what the ConDem Government is doing when it gives tax breaks and cuts regulatory costs.  But even with this support the costs of extraction and processing is high and will be reflected in market price.

 

Without doubt, we need a secure and sustainable source of energy that we can rely on well into the future.  Fossil fuel is not this energy.  By its very nature is is limited in supply and is getting more expensive to find and is damaging to the global environment.  The energy future that can deliver reliability is renewables, it has to be, by their very nature, renewables are limitless.  The wind will always blow, the sun will shine the tides rise and fall somewhere all the time.  The technical challenge is to connect up these various technologies in to energy grids that cover large areas so that energy can flow from high generating areas to the becalmed areas.  Developing this super-grid and building the appropriate generating plant will initially be expensive, but developing this system is an investment in the future and once mature, it will deliver reliable and affordable energy.  This has happened in Germany where because of its investment in renewable energy generation, the wholesale cost of electricity is falling.  True that the retail price remains high because of green tariffs that are designed to pay for the switch from fossil-nuclear to renewable.  But as the technology matures and the grid is developed, tariffs will fall and so will prices to the consumer.

 

This will not happen in the UK thanks to the policies of successive governments.  In the future we will be paying a premium global market price for gas, having been made reliant on gas power generation by Gideon Osbourn.  The fracking venture will prove to be an expensive flop and underground coal gasification will rack up a huge price tag in environmental damage that we will all have to pay for. Nuclear will deliver profits to French and Chinese state owned companies at our expense, but again it will fail to live up to the hype leaving us instead with a very costly clean up bill that will be greater than the value of the energy generated, plus the ever present risk of a major nuclear accident.

 

Green Party Energy policy aims to move energy generation from this high risk strategy that is based on extreme energy to a secure and sustainable energy supply system based on renewable sources of energy.  It can be done, Europe’s most successful economy is dong just this.  Japan in taking a close interest in German energy policy and for obvious reasons is interested in following this lead.  However, this strategy does not suit the big energy companies, and for that reason, the ConDem government is promoting a fossil-nuclear policy based on extreme energy and extreme risk.

Green Party Opposes Fracking at Biscathorpe

1 Comment

As part of our focus on energy this month we bring you a video from our lead Euro Candidate for East Midlands, Kat Boettge, as she campaigns against plans for oil extraction in a local area of outstanding natural beauty and community:

 

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/78459331″>Green Party opposes Biscathorpe oil drilling</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user8205550″>Tony Youens</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>


1 Comment

A Light on Energy

No to Fracking

This month East Midlands Green Party are focusing on the theme of energy. When I started writing this post, the street to which I’ve just moved went into blackout twice in one night. We stumbled over boxes to light candles. Being greenies, we had solar lights and a windup torch. I later found out that on the 13th of October the BBC reported the risk of blackouts this winter is higher than at any time over the past six years, according to the National Grid. Sitting in the dark we discussed, (along with things like how great one of our neighbours is and if he needs candles), the probability of power outages becoming more frequent and the effects on homes, businesses and public services. We don’t know our other neighbours yet, or those who might have troubles. We do know that the price of basic fuel often exceeds our own budget, along with an increasing number of others. We are lucky enough to be in paid employment, though my paid hours are few. Yet I know we are going to be cold and that this will effect my own physical capacity to work and live well, together with affecting my mood. Being constantly cold is not regularly associated with well-being. It does not help that there are so many others in similar or worse situations.

Under the present  insane system the priority is the pursuit of (short-term) profit rather than the meeting of human need or long-term solutions to the energy crisis. With Fuel Poverty on the rise and the cold winter  coming, charities such as Age UK are warning of associated fatal illness bought on by the cold which can and does result in the death of tens of thousands each year. Flu, asthma , chest infections, strokes, depression are some of the killers in the cold affecting low income households, including struggling families, infants, the elderly and those with disabilities. It affects us all as a society and as individuals. Within my circle of family and friends are those at risk. I am personally a high risk of complications  in cold spells due to my own health.

There is inefficiency and greed within an energy system based on polluting, wasteful extraction of resources that are becoming ever more scarce, or those which leave life-killing, cancer causing radioactive waste. Fracking manages both to be wasteful and polluting, destroying land and water. It is also radioactve.  One report citing some of the compelling research on this was by Douglas Main on October 3rd, for NBC News USA, where fracking is already in operation. Geochemistry and Water Quality Proffessor Avner Vengosh of Duke University stated levels of radium in fracking wastewater let out into rivers in Pennsylvania were ‘higher than those found in some radioactive waste dumps, and exceed the minimum threshold the federal government uses to qualify a disposal site as a radioactive dump site’ and that this will get into the food system on every level. The report by Main can be found at http://www.nbcnews.com/science/fracking-wastewater-contaminated-likely-radioactive-8C11323012. There is no promise to meet the energy needs of our communities. The industry is heavily subsidised by us through tax but comes with no health or environmental security.  It is no accident that fracking is banned in France, which will protect public safety and environment. It is also no accident that it is exempt from the clean water act in the USA, which is the only way it could be pushed forward.

Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News, reported on August 13th this year that ‘researchers from the University of Texas in Arlington found increased levels of arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in the Barnett Shale, an area with around 16,000 active gas wells.’ A component in rat poison and famous in the classic film ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, arsenic is one of the worlds most effective and vile poisons. In fracking the outmoded, wasteful, centralised energy production industry has come up with something that is more deathly and desperate than anything we have so far seen. It leaves water undrinkable, carrying cancer causing and other poisonous chemicals and radioactivity.

Humanity has become dependent on wasteful, polluting, inefficient and heavily subsidised fuel instead of investing in renewables which are infinite , the relevant technologies are largely clean and increasingly efficient.  Green Party policy states the immediate objective: To promote full use of currently available renewable energy sources for heat, electricity and transport and provide the necessary support for the relevant markets and industries to grow. Meanwhile our Green Energy Policy also states the aim: To reduce demand for fossil fuels as rapidly as possible by inducing industry, householders and the public sector to invest in energy conservation. Under the present coalition, with no real opposition from Labour, subsidies of millions are going into £Billion Oil Companies while investment in renewables has been pulled. The Big Oil industry has limited accountability and little interest in communities becoming more self-sufficient through localised energy production.

The efficiency of renewables is increased with localised energy generation, open to community co-ownership. Green Party Policy has long-term aims for a Green Economy with energy generation focused on combined renewables locally.  Our policy states: Energy would be generated, stored and distributed as close to the point of use as practicable, with maximum local control. Our policy has at its core a commitment to make energy production ‘fully accountable to the public sector‘. The fossil fuel industry, which itself should be fossilised, works on nationalised, centralised power structures and is becoming increasingly unfit for purpose. Much fuel is needed in the transportation of fuel in these systems, meaning more pollution, less power.

Increasing fuel poverty and power outages (blackouts) and the health and safety implications are the tip of a large iceberg we are being taken towards by those with the blinkered arrogance to believe we are somehow unsinkable.  Jarred Diamond,  in  ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’ tracks the ancient societies that have fallen because humankind has misused, mismanaged and devalued water and soil and other natural, vital resources. He then links it to what we are doing in the post industrial ‘civilised’ world. Let’s not watch the titanic failure of inadequate energy policies destroy lives, futures, economies. The Green Party is the only political party in the UK with sustainable, workable energy policies.

There is something soulful in the scientific understanding that energy does not die, it chances to change. This is a holistic wisdom in the purest sense,  touching on the poetry of a ‘council of all beings’ and remaining true to both science of sustainable energy production and the lives and economies that rely on energy production being sustainable in every sense of the word.

I will end with this, the introduction to The Green Party’s comprehensive Energy Policy. To me, after the power cut, it is a light in the dark:

‘Our world is bathed in energy radiated from the sun, but is also provided with stocks of fossil fuels in which energy is locked up. Our economic development has taken us away from using sun, wind and water power to a technology dependent on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels represent natural capital. Industrialism has been committing the fundamental economic error of using capital as income. As E.F. Schumacher has pointed out, the wealth generated from the use of capital energy resources must be directed towards making ourselves independent of that type of resource.http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/en

Soundrack to changing energy policy:

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

Boys on the Balcony – Seize the Day

If you Tolerate this – Manic Street Preachers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4qledBpbig

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHqFqSkHBqc

http://www.thenation.com/blog/160166/top-ten-antinuclear-songs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkCFronBCqs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg2gAbb0NuE

by Antonia Zenkevitch for The Green Party