Conference Cue

The Solent is NOT self sufficient in energy production, but several energy projects are planned for the area. So what do we have to do? How will it affect us and our environment?

Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG (British Airways and Iberia) was questioned about the likely effect of shale gas development on oil prices following his keynote speech to the Centenary Conference of the British Marine Federation held at the Royal Marines Museum at Eastney, Portsmouth.

In his opinion, the USA will not permit excessive export of gas, so the effect on world prices is likely to be limited to the withdrawal of USA from International markets. He added that this is likely to stabilise prices at around the current levels for a considerable period.

Mr Walsh considered that the development of shale resources in Europe would be limited because of the higher population density. While such constraints may not apply to the remoter reaches of China where shale gas is plentiful, shortage of water required to ‘frack’ the rocks may limit development.

If Mr Walsh’s view prevails, then energy prices would seem unlikely to rise to level at which wind farms, even onshore, are able to operate without subsidy.

Maybe we do need to spend the money on second generation renewables research, as suggested by Dieter Helm, the Oxford economist. In his view, the development of shale gas extraction technology has demolished the ‘peak oil’ hypothesis (i.e. we are about to run out of fossil fuels) on which the policy of subsidising current renewable energy sources is based.

If Dieter Helm’s opinion is correct, then wholesale investment in wind could leave the UK with an uncompetitive energy base compared with countries that have exploited shale gas.

This debate is raging within Government at present, and until it is resolved it would be a pity to despoil our landscape with wind farms on land, and it is already clear that the argument is having an effect on the offshore wind farms off the South coast of the UK. Several are under review. It is also interesting to note that Centrica have recently announced that they have withdrawn from being a potential nuclear generating company.

At best, gas can only be a bridging solution (though it has significantly less emissions than coal or oil). Friends of the Earth have argued that we simply do not have that much time available.

It therefore becomes imperative that we see more support for the commercial development of second generation renewable technologies that can be viable at lower oil prices.

In the Solent,

– Calshot power station is due for replacement,

– we face the possibility of “fracking” in the Solent area, and

– the development of windfarms in or near the Solent

– construction of a biomass near Southampton city centre

With this in mind, Solent Protection Society is planning a conference later his year to tease out the issues so that we can properly understand them insofar as they affect us and the Solent.”