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United Kingdom

Government accused of figures fudge -- Pollution savings downplayed

The British government is accused of underplaying the carbon emission savings from renewable energy implementation with the result that clean energy technologies are made to appear more expensive for taxpayers than is actually the case. Energy consultant David Milborrow told the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) last month that its consultation report on climate change estimates pollution savings which are inconsistent with all previous government estimates.

The DETR claims that the UK's 10% target for electricity from renewables would deliver savings of only 2.5 million tonnes of carbon (MtC) per year. This figure is also used by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in its renewable policy consultation document, published in February. But Milborrow points out that as recently as December, the official estimate of savings from the 10% renewables target was around 7.5 MtC per year -- and this was also the figure used by the House of Lords in a 1999 report on renewable energy.

"This discrepancy has profound implications for the perceived cost of the renewables program in terms of expenditure per tonne of carbon saved," he says. "It has equally important implications for the valuation of carbon credits associated with the implementation of renewable energy." Milborrow further comments: "This is such an enormous change that one is inevitably led to the conclusion that there has either been some error or there is some political reason for the figure to be pushed downwards."

If wind replaces gas

From the DETR, Ian Coates claims the new figures have been adopted on the advice of the DTI. Coates says that carbon savings reflect the carbon content of fuel that is displaced by electricity from renewables. The earlier figures had assumed that oldest coal fired plant -- with a higher carbon content -- would be displaced by renewables. However, the latest DTI thinking takes the view that instead of displacing old plant, renewables would prevent new generating plant from being built. "And any new build is expected to be gas," he says.

Milborrow says the argument does not hold water. "That logic is flawed on several counts. Firstly, renewables now are displacing coal -- and will for several years hence. Secondly, you have only to read the government's own energy White Paper to see that the growth of new gas generation is taking place regardless of any other developments. New gas plant -- just like renewables -- is forcing the closure of old coal plant, and so the carbon savings should reflect that." He also maintains that the arithmetic behind the "new" DTI argument is still wrong. "And why do they use different [higher] figures when estimating the carbon saved by nuclear?" he asks.

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