The good news today is that E.ON has, for now, decided not to build a new coal fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. This was the site Climate Camp marched to last year in objection to the lack of sufficient carbon capture and storage (CSS) in place which would be needed to get on track with our carbon emissions target. E.ON attribute their policy reversal to a recession induced drop in electricity demand, which will be a factor, but the factor you would point to if you want to ignore how a public campaign against your brand might affect your sales.
Clearly we want clean, renewable energy sources, less and significantly more efficient energy and material use, and reforestation at the core of our climate strategies, locally, nationally and internationally. ‘Clean coal’ appears to be a possibility and not something to rule out completely, despite it being used as a vehicle for green wash and a sloppy re-branding of business as usual. It isn’t ready yet, at least not on an industrial scale, and won’t be for a while. But dismissing carbon capture and storage as part of a strategy for reaching our carbon targets could mean missing out on research funds from the private sector which wouldn’t otherwise be diverted to renewable energy research. Pilot power stations with which to make this technology workable may still jeopardise UK carbon targets but could also prove a good investment if it can then be used in economies already dependent on coal who would be continuing to burn it under or over their carbon caps.
Activists can polarise debates and the public with mixed effect, but this time they seem to have put enough of a spotlight on the poor regulation of government and bravado of the energy sector to force a retreat from a dangerously under-theorised and rushed approach in Kingsnorth. The difficult task for activists now is to support a nuanced debate on carbon capture and storage to develop without dissmissing its potential outright and alienating potential allies across the public, scientific community and energy sector. This is a small victory, one which should be celebrated today, but tomorrow we need to get on with the bigger picture, which could mean being open to down-playing our own political influence and previous Kingsnorth-specific assertions. Just hopefully not too much.