UK cabinet reshuffle clears way for “greener agenda”

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week created a new government department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as part of his latest cabinet shuffle. The new entity will take on several issues affecting the UK power industry, including soaring wholesale prices resulting from a squeeze in generating capacity, the nation’s crumbling power infrastructure, and disjointed climate change and energy security policies.
The UK’s new secretary of state for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, has replaced John Hutton, the government’s leading advocate of new coal-fired power stations and nuclear power. With the move, “the government has paved the way for more integrated energy and environment policy,” The Guardian reported Friday.
But the move also comes as British companies are being forced to pay more than four times more for their electricity this winter than competitors in France and in excess of 70% more than in Germany, The Times revealed Monday.
The soaring prices are attributable to the shutdown of a number of aging nuclear and coal-fired plants for repairs, causing a constriction in generating capacity. The reduction is expected to leave an unusually thin margin of spare supply next month, the newspaper said.
UK grid operator National Grid insisted capacity was sufficient to meet the winter demand, though a member of the Energy Intensive Users’ Group warned that some British companies could close because they would not be able to pay such high prices.
Throughout last week and on Monday, UK media had speculated that Miliband’s appointment would be good to tackle climate change. There was no consensus on what it might mean for the country’s energy security, however. 
The Independent said that government’s commitment to nuclear power remains unchanged, and the reshuffle is also likely to help Britain’s drive to get 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
But, as an opinion writer at The Guardian wrote, the appointment may signal “a ministerial veto” for new coal-fired generation not equipped to capture and store carbon dioxide. Particularly affected would be plans to build the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent, the UK’s first coal-fired plant in 34 years—and a project that Hutton had been heavily criticized for supporting.
On Thursday, the UK Environment Agency went so far as to recommend that no new coal-fired power stations be built unless they were fitted from the outset with carbon capture and storage facilities.

Sources: The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph

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