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The fumes from ‘renewables bonfire’ will cost lives

ADBA has written to the chair of the Commons Energy Select Committee, Angus MacNeil MP, asking his committee to scrutinise the impact that DECC’s ‘capacity market’ plans will have on levels of deadly air pollution. The Energy Committee is holding an evidence session with National Grid on 24 November.

Earlier this year the government’s official scientific advisory body, the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants Committee, reported that air pollution may claim 60,000 early deaths in Great Britain each year. The government’s support for ‘dirty’ power generators instead of renewable baseload options like biogas, however, will increase air pollution – the seventh biggest global killer – and so place more lives at risk.

ADBA’s December National Conference will establish how anaerobic digestion (AD) could not only match capacity from diesel generators, but do so in a more cost-effective way.  AD offers excellent return on investment both in terms of just baseload energy capacity, and when considering the wider value to job creation, carbon abatement, exports opportunities, recycling targets and farming resilience. The Westminster-based event will pull together industry leaders and policymakers to analyse how incentive reductions will hurt the UK’s long-term goals on climate change, recycling, renewable heat and low-carbon transport policy.  

ADBA’s Chief Executive, Charlotte Morton, commented:

Secure energy supplies are vital – but they don’t mean we need to turn to old technologies which increase the risk of dangerous climate change and cause deadly air pollution.

I hope that the energy committee will explore with National Grid how much new diesel generation is being built, and that they will join us in asking ministers to support clean, green sources of baseload electricity such as biogas instead.

With the right support, biogas from anaerobic digestion could match the proposed additional capacity from the government’s diesel subsidies scheme. Ultimately AD can scale to deliver the same quantity of vital baseload energy as Hinkley Point C even before that comes online, and moreover at lower cost and risk.

Not only can we deliver clean, baseload indigenous electricity, but supporting AD to reach its potential would also save billions in carbon abatement costs; support farming resilience and food production; and build a UK industry which can export to the world.

In that context, the government’s decision to remove funding from renewables and build dirty fossil fuel power generators is at best extraordinarily counterproductive and at worst unbelievably reckless.

Charlotte Morton has raised the issue in a letter to the Chair of the House of Commons Energy & Climate Change Committee, Angus MacNeil MP, ahead of the body’s one-off hearing on Tuesday 24 November with the National Grid. In the committee’s announcement on the special hearing session, Mr MacNeil commented:

The security of our electricity supply is something we all take for granted, but a lot of effort goes on behind the scenes to keep the lights on and the gas flowing. The closure of polluting coal-fired generation has left capacity margins at worryingly low levels this winter.

Following the National Grid’s prediction that the energy capacity gap between supply and demand could fall to as little as 5 per cent, the government has awarded subsidy contracts to hundreds of megawatts of polluting diesel generators to be built by 2018. Analysis reported in the Financial Times estimates that these diesel generators could cost the taxpayer £436 million, excluding the carbon abatement cost incurred by the several million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions that will be emitted each year.

Diesel, which is only slightly less polluting than coal, emits the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that the World Health Organisation (WHO) last year reported was an additional cause of death to particulate matter (PM2.5). Indeed, the UK government’s committee on the medical effects of air pollution (COMEAP) estimates that 23,500 lives are cut short each year by NO2 alone each year.

In a Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs consultation launched in September aimed at improving air quality, the department recognised that:

Tackling air pollution is a priority for this Government. We will achieve this by exploiting new, clean technologies.

The UK is compliant with EU legislation for nearly all air pollutants. However, we face a significant challenge meeting the NO2 limit values in some areas.

This year’s ADBA National Conference will also be the first AD industry event in the wake of the Autumn Statement, during which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will outline key spending decisions on crucial government incentive schemes such as the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI).

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