5:35pm Friday 8th August 2008
By Tim Quantrill
Margaret Thatcher can be blamed for many things during her time in office, one of which is the decimation of the coal industry in Britain.
She was never one for the environment with one pro-green speech - which she did not follow up with action - the sum total of what I can remember about her musings and policies on the subject.
But, for all the anguish and misery caused at the time and since, the decision to go after the coal unions and weaken the influence of the industry had a big effect on the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the country in the past 30 years.
Her policy was, unintentionally, the greenest thing she did. It meant that more gas from the North Sea was burned in power stations instead of coal and this ‘dash for gas’ saved us millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions, not to mention cutting back our contribution to acid rain.
But instead of using this breather to move on to the next generation of power production by developing wind, solar, tidal, geo-thermal and others, we missed a trick and the Government is now intending to take a backward step - ageing nuclear and coal-fired power stations are to be replaced by, cue the drumroll, new nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
The Climate Change camp being held by environmentalists in Kent near the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station is highlighting the dinosaur thinking that still exists in this country despite all the brave words about creating a new carbon-light economy.
At a time when Britain is telling the world to go green, how can we consider building several new huge power stations fuelled by fossil carbon? The plant is being excused by the Government because of the dream of carbon capture and storage in which carbon dioxide escaping up the chimney would be diverted to a plant which would turn it into a gas or liquid ready to be stored underground.
The fact that this technology hasn’t event been demonstrated to work yet means to me it’s more of a pipedream than a likelihood. The proposed new plant at Kingsnorth will not even be built with it installed. The operators ‘may’ retro-fit it at a later date.
Yet a long list of proven renewable technologies is still being ignored and if we are genuinely to create a low carbon economy we need to make the switch from coal a permanent one and use other fuels. As I’ve said before, the proposed new Bradford Council scheme to deal with its rubbish by autoclaving it seems a huge waste of an opportunity not only to create a sustainable system but to produce energy too.
Anaerobic digestion - harnessing the methane from decaying organic matter like household waste or manure - is big on the Continent but almost unheard of here. Likewise geothermal, ground and air source thermal, biomass from wood and plants and combined heat and power.
The billions of pounds being spent on these traditional power stations could instead create the foundations for a sustainable energy future but another of Thatcher’s legacies - big business creating big schemes with big profit margins - has our policymakers in its grip and it will be very difficult to change its course, just like its supertankers which transport the carbon economy’s blood in their holds.
Green or Obscene - the mileage counter
Miles by car: -626
Miles being driven: -125
Miles by train: +841
Miles on foot: +115
Miles by bike: +0
Miles by bus: +0
Miles by ferry: +0
Total: +205 (running total: -1241)
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