British Prime Minister David Cameron clarified the government’s position on carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) when appearing before a House of Commons Liaison Committee on Tuesday evening.
He also denied that the Treasury had tied his hands on climate policy and also took issue when questioned why the UK had slipped down the rankings in terms of renewable energy, calling it ‘total and utter nonsense.’
The government had been accused of creating confusion on the subject of CCS as a result of mixed messages in recent weeks from the Prime Minister and energy secretary Amber Rudd.
Mr Cameron had previously said CCS was "absolutely crucial" for the UK, so the decision to scrap a £1bn competition for a large-scale trial CCS plant is being criticised by MPs. Meanwhile Rudd had spoken of the technology’s ‘important future.’
In response to the question ‘Why did you scrap carbon capture and storage investment despite promising to put £1bn into it?’ put forward by the Scottish Nationalist Party’s Angus MacNeil, the Conservative leader dismissed his suggestion that with the government ‘one hand did not know what the other hand is doing.’
Mr Cameron said the last two governments had ‘poured money into these new technologies.’
“At the moment, it seems to me that with carbon capture and storage, while I completely believe in the idea, the technology is not working. CCS is £1bn of capital expenditure, £1bn that we could spend on flood defences, schools or the health service. Even after you’ve spent that £1bn, that doesn’t give you CCS that is competitive in the market. The government hoped the costs would come down. But they did not.”
The Prime Minister then compared various technologies to reinforce the point.
“CCS would still cost £170 per megawatt hour. That compares with nuclear energy costing £90, or onshore wind costing £70…. we are confident that the mix we have committed to in gas nuclear and renewables.”
He was equally dismissive when addressing the question, ‘What about international investment in renewables. On the Ernst & Young analysis, we have tumbled down the ratings.’
“Totally, totally disagree. Total and utter nonsense', he said, pointing to his government’s overall record while in office.
“98 per cent of solar panels installed in the UK have been installed since I became prime minister,” he said, adding, “We are the first developed country to say we will phase out coal-fired power stations,” before concluding, “Greenhouse gases fell by 8 per cent last year.”
Above all the statements made by the Prime Minister at the committee represent another huge blow to the prospects for CCS in the country.
Earlier Professor Dieter Helm, from Oxford University, a supporter of many of the government's other energy reforms, had told the BBC in advance of the committee hearing, "It's a no-brainer that the shallow North Sea is the place to try out CCS, with lots of empty holes, pipelines, experience and gas plants nearby.
"So the question is really whether the UK cares about the climate change problem or is merely trying to achieve its carbon production targets at minimum cost."