Is it time to decouple "Climate Change" from the Department of Energy and Climate Change? If it was the plain old "Department of Energy" again, it might spend more time researching new fuel sources. Two peers last week took aim at the department because its latest energy blueprints are ignoring the potential impact of shale gas.
The government is "re-consulting" (in its own words) on national energy blueprints, also known as the Revised Draft National Policy Statements, up to 2050. But one of the Lords expressed surprise during the gathering that the latest didn't mention shale at all.
"There is the possibility that potentially abundant supplies of unconventional gas will result in considerably lower gas prices," said Lord Reay, continuing:
"The Government apparently cannot find space in several hundred pages of their energy national policy statements to acknowledge the existence of this potentially game-changing development. Gas is now cheap, the price having decoupled from the oil price, and it is going to be accessible in many countries worldwide, not least in Europe. "It emits 50 per cent to 70 per cent less carbon than coal, with the result that when the previous 'dash for gas' took place in the 1990s and gas to some extent took over from coal, our power station carbon emissions fell overall by some 30 per cent."
Indeed, and what's not to like?
"What is the point of persisting with ever-rising subsidies for wind power in order to meet renewable energy targets when abundant, cheap and relatively CO2-clean gas is available?" asked the Scottish peer.
According to Lord Reay, the problem is that any substantial new gas power station now needs to demonstrate "readiness". CCS will require a national grid of pipelines to take the carbon dioxide out to sea... or wherever else they decide to send it.
Lord Jenkin echoed Reay's comments, and wondered why it was omitted from the 2050 blueprints when it was "mentioned in a briefing sent to a number of us last November by the department". This stated, he pointed out that "Additional supplies in the US may now have a limited impact on international gas markets (since it [the US] is now largely self-sufficient), unless the US were able to export some of this gas".
So the department knows it is there. It just doesn't want to investigate it.
In response, Lord Jonathan Marland, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DECC, said: "We welcome shale gas, of course; if it reduces the price of gas, that will be fantastic. There are no signs as yet that the Americans are going to supply it to the outside world, as they are intending at the moment to keep it within their own country, but anything that reduces the price of gas will be of great benefit."
But the US does need not export gas for the UK to benefit, however, since we may be sitting on a substantial shale gas reservoir. Asset management giant The Carlyle Group is backing a planning application to explore shale in Blackpool. There's more on that on the shale blog No Hot Air, here.
Today, pubicly-funded academics at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester called for a pre-emtive moratorium on shale fuel investment, citing unspecified health concerns and saying the new fuel sources will "increase the risk of entering a period of 'dangerous climate change'"... as well as local issues such as "high levels of truck movements".
Back to the Lords - where the debates's fruitiest remarks came from Lord Deben, the peer formerly known as John Selwyn Gummer.