From the outside, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can seem like an overly ambitious idea. Carbon emissions from power stations or industrial facilities are captured, liquefied and then transported out to sea for storage in depleted oil and gas fields. As we transition to a low-carbon economy, CCS turns our coal plants, our steel mills and our chemical works into part of the solution to climate change.
But CCS is not fantastical – it works. It has been demonstrated. This year, Canada will open a retrofitted coal power station that will store approximately one million tonnes of carbon annually, the equivalent of removing 250,000 vehicles from Saskatchewan’s roads.
Britain used to be the world leader in CCS. In 2010, under the last Labour Government, we had more CCS projects competing for European funding than the rest of the continent combined. We had a dedicated CCS levy to support early projects and a clear strategic vision for the roll out of the technology.
These steps were taken in recognition of the fact that CCS is absolutely vital in our push to decarbonise. This is because it offers perhaps the only route for the decarbonisation of key industrial processes for which the consumption of fossil fuels is a necessity. We might be able to derive electricity from the wind, but we will never make steel from sunshine. As the rest of Europe moves to a low-carbon economy on the back of a rising carbon price, CCS users clustered around CO2 pipelines in the Tees Valley, Humberside, possibly Grangemouth and elsewhere would give the UK’s industrial sector a competitive edge.
Since 2010, much of that progress has been squandered by a coalition that has dithered and delayed, frittering away our achievements. An ambition to support four CCS projects was halved. There was no movement on support for industrial applications for CCS. Those projects which were not in receipt of government support were allowed to wither on the vine.
I am launching Labour’s new position paper on Carbon Capture and Storage, which you can read here. Written in conjunction with Baroness Worthington, the paper is a clear statement of support for CCS technology and a further step towards repairing the damage caused by the coalition’s negligence.
The paper identifies a number of strategic challenges that we will face over the next parliament. The next government will have to settle on a framework for incentivising industrial CCS. It will have to make decisions about how best to manage the construction of key infrastructure for transportation and storage. Crucially, it will have to hold the industry to account and ensure that it is on a clear trajectory towards cost-competitiveness with other forms of low-carbon energy.
But there are levers at our disposal and the paper outlines a number of solutions. There is a greater role for the Green Investment Bank and the government’s new regulator in the North Sea. We set out the need for CCS to be able to access government support in the same manner as other low-carbon options, the need for a new way of looking at transportation and storage infrastructure and the requirement to get moving on industrial CCS.
In the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy, CCS is a necessity, not an option. Despite the coalition’s indifference, we still have the ability to convert the UK’s significant potential for CCS into a reality. The next Labour government will be determined to make that happen.
Tom Greatrex is Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West and shadow energy minister