The energy secretary, Amber Rudd, is to “reset” Britain’s energy policy on Wednesday in a direction that downgrades tackling climate change from its highest priorities but commits to closing all traditional coal-fired plants by 2025.
In her biggest speech in the job, Rudd will say she wants policy to focus on making energy affordable and secure. She will say the aim is a “consumer-led, competition-focused energy system that has energy security at the heart of it”, and will suggest the balance has swung too far in favour of climate change policies at the expense of keeping energy affordable.
Green campaigners are likely to be somewhat mollified by the fact she is likely to pledge to restrict coal-fired power by 2023 and all but eradicate it within the decade.
Coal provides around 30% of the UK’s electricity but it is the most carbon-intensive of fossil fuels and environmentalists have long been pushing the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) to set a date for phasing it out, preferably by 2023. To meet this goal, the UK will have to put a huge effort into getting enough gas-fired power stations built to meet demand.
Burning gas emits around half as much carbon as coal and is considered by some to be a “bridging” fuel, as countries work towards a zero-carbon future.
“One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas,” Rudd will say. “Gas is central to our energy secure future. In the next 10 years it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built.”
She will acknowledge that both gas and nuclear power generation will effectively need government subsidy to get built, but will argue they are the most secure energy sources for the future.
Rudd’s critics are likely to call the government’s focus on gas and nuclear power short-sighted when she has cut so many subsidies for renewables and energy efficiency schemes.