Sir: You suggest in your leading article of 26 June that Mrs Beckett's proposed restriction on planning permission for new gas-fired power stations, to take account of diversity and security in energy supply, involves old- fashioned arguments.
But it is not the idea of safeguarding a long-term indigenous energy supply [i.e. protecting coal reserves] that is the point at issue. Rather it is the rate at which we are using our gas resource that is of major concern. You imply that gas will be available from Europe, but only 4 per cent of the world's gas is there - the major percentage of the reserves, some 74 per cent, lie in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East, according to the World Energy Council's Survey of Energy
You oversimplify the problem by arguing for a completely free market in energy supply, although you accept that "there are wider costs which need to be taken into account". The imposition of a carbon tax, perhaps by the EU, would indeed not favour coal. The carbon dioxide [per unit of electricity] produced by a coal-fired station is over twice that from a new combined cycle gas turbine [CCGT] plant, and restricting the number of CCGT plants to be built will not help the Government to attain its incredibly ambitious target for reducing the greenhouse gases. But the carbon tax would change the economic arguments in other ways, for nuclear plants produce virtually no CO2 and they would presumably avoid the carbon tax. A new economic case may then appear for building more nuclear plants, as against continuing the closure of the existing ones.
There is much to be said for Mrs Beckett's line of keeping some of the options open. In 1995 the National Academies Policy Advisory Group put the case for the maintaining a mix in energy supply for electricity generation, to include gas, coal and nuclear, as well as renewables (Energy and the Environment in the 21st Century, NAPAG 1995]. Our arguments remain as strong now as they were then.
Professor Sir JOHN HORLOCK FRS
Ampthill, BedfordshireReuse content