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Why Frack?

August 1, 2014

Tackling Climate Change isn’t a new political idea. But it still doesn’t have support from the right of the political spectrum in the UK.

When difficult decisions have to be made about our future energy generation, issues of zero carbon or sustainability become, for some, unimportant. But, for others, me included, zero carbon and sustainability are key criteria for the choices we make on energy.

In making choices, we need to distinguish between how we generate electricity and the other direct uses of energy – for example vehicle fuel and gas for heating and cooking. With some exceptions, there are few current alternatives to petrol and diesel for vehicles, and the same is the case for gas in the home. But the choices for electricity generation are real, and these are choices about investment, price and sustainability.

I argue that the greatest political priority for energy is to generate all our electricity as carbon-neutral. We are a long way off this, but if it can be achieved, then all sorts of other technology doors open. Cars powered by sustainable electricity have, for example, a  totally different environmental footprint to cars powered by petrol or diesel. In contrast, an electric car now which uses electricity made from fossil fuels is only different from a petrol or diesel car in terms of efficiency.

The UK has a poor record in generating electricity sustainably. The dash for gas for the last 20 years has been investment-easy and, in its favour, preferable to coal (without carbon capture). However, it should be seen as temporary and all efforts should focus on renewables. These now account for about 15% of UK electricity. The priority is to increase this percentage dramatically over the next decade.

Renewables need government investment to get them going. Solar received a big boost in the early part of this government. Offshore Wind technology is being supported within the Industrial Strategy, as is Nuclear. Tidal technology is being developed within the Catapult Programme (part of the Industrial Strategy). Without strategic government investment to develop renewable technologies, the technologies won’t be developed. The UK, as a windy island with long coastlines, bays and estuaries, should be a world leader in these technologies. The arguments in favour are environmental, the arguments against are development costs, uncertainty over technological success and a higher starting price.

In contrast, fracking is developed by big business as a way of developing new product to sell in the future. The arguments for UK fracking are for energy supply continuity and price. The downside is environmental.

In weighing up the options, therefore, it depends on the importance you place on tackling climate change. As Lib Dems we are convinced that tackling climate change is a top political necessity of our age. So the policies should reflect that. We should prioritise renewables and carbon-neutral technologies. Fracking should be considered only if we cannot square the circle without it.

 

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