Manifesto Review: The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democratic manifesto is ambitious, yet pragmatic. It contains some of the radical think found in the Green Party but also the realism of the Conservatives. The resulting compromise therefore is a well balanced energy and environment policy that by and large manages to incorporate most key aspects of a sustainable policy. Certain policies are likely to prove hard to implement, such as reduction in energy use, as this would be misdirected and is unlikely to prove popular with the public. Its stance on nuclear power is interesting as it might open the door for new approaches to nuclear power that are currently disadvantaged.

Key policies:

– The Liberal Democrats are seeking to introduce a ‘Zero Carbon Britain Act’ that would legally bind the government to bring net emissions to zero by 2050.

– Ambitious reduction in energy use in Britain

– Four key low-carbon technologies: tidal, Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles (R&D + Commercialisation support)

– Create an ‘Office for Environmental Responsibility’, similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility created by the Coalition government.

– Energy efficiencies to minimise waste

– End the use of non-CCS coal by 2025.

– Nuclear power can play a role in a low-carbon future however no public subsidies for new build.

Find the full Liberal Democrat manifesto here (http://www.libdems.org.uk/read-the-full-manifesto)

Analysis:

The pragmatism of this manifesto is mainly seen relating to coal-fired power plants. By phasing out non-CCS (carbon capture and storage) coal power, they acknowledge that coal inevitably will play an important role in the short-term, before a complete stop can be achieved. Given that coal is one of few ways of generating base load and the fairly long approval- and construction times for nuclear power, which is the only other viable and environmentally friendly base load producer, coal will remain the backbone of British energy production for at least 10-15 years. The manifesto also implies that the Party acknowledges the key weakness of renewable energy – it only works when the wind blows or the sun shines. Efficient and cheap energy storage will be essential in order for us to be able to fully order keflex antibiotic harness the awesome powers of Mother Nature, regardless of the time of the day.

However the manifesto is not without its fair share of gimmicks and political statements. The ‘Zero Carbon Britain Act’ is unlikely to be anything more than just a political statement, even if this sometimes got its value. Such an act could easily be amended or repealed thus making it in practical terms a lame duck. The suggested creation of an ‘Office for Environmental Responsibility’ would also fall under the umbrella of gimmicks, however this suggestion might carry some weight. Creating such an office to coordinate and name/shame government departments could potentially allow the Government to lead by example. The manifesto does not provide any greater level of detail regarding this new body, but this is a policy to watch out for.

Whilst the LibDem stance on nuclear power isn’t ideal, it might still provide an impetus for innovation. The current approach to nuclear power is based on economy of scale which has led to ever-larger reactors. This however has, in combination with the dominance of pressurised reactors and very high security standards, led to significant problems for the sector. The capital costs of building new nuclear power are currently very high and government subsidies are more often than not required for a project to get off the ground. By removing government subsidies but legislating for zero net emissions by 2050 an incentive for different approaches to nuclear power could arise. One specific segment of the nuclear sector that is especially well-placed for such a shift would be small modular reactors (SMRs). Thanks to its modularity the initial capital costs would be considerably lower but also would provide a flexible base load which would be appropriate for the energy supply of the future that will be increasingly based on renewables. The LibDems fall short when it comes to research subsidies for the nuclear sector, something that potentially could place Britain in the lead in terms of nuclear power of the future.

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John Lindberg 32 Articles
John Lindberg is a former policy adviser to Sir Jamie McGrigor MSP and a self-declared science geek. His main interests are energy and environmental issues, with a burning passion for nuclear power. He recently graduated with a First from the University of Glasgow, MA (Hons) in Politics.

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