The UK’s Energy National Policy Statement

There is some difference I suppose between a National Policy Statement and a National Policy, but the subtlety is beyond me. I should not waste time on semantics and assume that the Energy National Policy Statement is simply national energy policy written down, or in other words, national energy policy.

The government has published its Energy National Policy Statement, abbreviated to ENPS, which is its energy policy. Having a longer title than necessary tends to make things suspiciously pretentious, full of froth and bubble that loquaciousness brings. The Energy National Policy Statement is a poor substitute for a fully thought out energy policy.

It has been quite hard the track down the policy statement; you have to go through a variety of UK government websites, most of which contain statements about the statements and to save you the bother of this tedium I can tell you that the link to the policy is  http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/meeting_energy/consents_planning/nps_en_infra/nps_en_infra.aspx

which you will see comprises six policy statements and two government responses and an impact assessment. Who would of thought that energy policy should be so hard to lay out succinctly. Perhaps it is better not to be befuddled by this approach to attempting to communicate policy and settle to down load the “over arching national policy statement for energy” at http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/meeting-energy-demand/consents-planning/nps2011/1938-overarching-nps-for-energy-en1.pdf

From this document we glean that energy is important and needs a significant amount of large scale and small scale infrastructure, that theUKis committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels) and that this is going to be a major challenge. Calling the reduction “a major challenge” is more than the litotes of British reserve; such a reduction, on our present course of energy policy, is simply dreamland.

Energy we are told should be secure, safe, low carbon and affordable. We are not told that energy cannot be both low carbon and affordable or secure and safe. These conflicts have not been addressed in the policy statement, yet they are critical in getting the policy right.

My immediate impression of the revised policy statements is, when you clear away all the froth and bubble

  1. The planning laws will be changed to make planning consent for infrastructure projects much quicker and presumably easier to obtain.
  2. The UKwill build eight new nuclear power stations to replace those that are going to be closing down; so we are on a nuclear pathway without a real debate about it.
  3. There will be a need to invest £100 billion in the electricity infrastructure to enable a lower carbon grid; if a government makes any infrastructure expense estimate it is usually right to treble or quadruple the estimate. HM Revenue and Customs collect £157 billion from income tax and national insurance tax in 2009.
  4. There will also be a need to invest in gas pipelines, storage facilities
  5. The UK does not have virtually any of the infrastructures needed to achieve its 80% target.
  6. The UK will mainly rely on private investment to finance the changes that will be necessary.

The sheer size of the cost of “decarbonising” our energy supply makes it necessary, if private investment is to be used, to provide for quicker planning decisions so that we can get on with much needed greenhouse gas reductions. The sheer size of the project also, in my view, mitigates against using privately raised money and should point towards using taxation as a means to raise the money.

Fighting climate change is like fighting a war; the cost is terrible but the cost of failure is worse. We would not sub contract the fighting of a war to private finance and I wonder of the wisdom of doing so in the case of climate change.