When Whitehall wants to put out new information without mass coverage the technique is quite simple: ministries publish the data without any press release or calls to journalists.
And so it was a few weeks ago when Decc, the energy department, published figures predicting where Britain’s future energy supplies would come from.
At a stroke of a pen, officials quadrupled their predictions for gas from 8GW to 28GW; in layman’s terms, about 8 new power stations to around 28.
As such, tomorrow’s announcement by George Osborne about a new dash for gas will not come as a surprise to the industry. Ministers have been open about the need for a vast increase in gas, in part to replace the ageing nuclear reactors and coal-fired power stations coming to the end of their life.
Here are the Decc statistics: Firstly, Annex I of this spreadsheet shows you the 2012 forecasts for new energy capacity in its different forms. You can see the much lower estimate for new gas in the same spreadsheet for 2011, also in Annex I.
The stats show how Decc still does not believe that new nuclear will be truly transformative – in size terms – by 2030. The department expects nuclear to provide only a relatively modest amount of new capacity (at 9.9 GW). (Interesting to note cost problems at EDF’s site in northern France, announced yesterday.)
Tomorrow’s gas strategy statement is politically important and was insisted on by the Treasury as a way to reassure potentially nervous investors in the industry. But it does not mean that Osborne has somehow over-ruled the Lib Dems and his greener colleagues to prevent a massive increase in renewables.
Look closely at the statistics and you will see that the predictions for renewables are even more ambitious; some 42 GW – ie the equivalent of around 40 gas-fired power stations. Useful context, suggesting that the argument between gas and green energy is still not seen as an either-or debate within the coalition.