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Sunak faces anger over new gas-power strategy for ‘backing up renewables’

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Rishi Sunak has sparked controversy by endorsing the construction of new gas-fired power stations, stating that he will prioritise energy security and avoid jeopardising it.

The government’s plan, to be announced today, aims to bolster gas power capacity, providing investors with increased confidence in the long-term viability of such plants, despite the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels.

Ministers argue that gas plants are essential for maintaining power supplies during periods when wind and solar farms are unable to generate sufficient electricity. They emphasize that the move does not contradict net zero targets but ensures a reliable energy transition.

Critics view this as a setback in the broader effort to decarbonize Britain’s power network through renewable energy projects. While gas accounted for a significant portion of electricity generation last year, renewable industry supporters advocate for increased investment in battery projects to enhance system reliability.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho is expected to outline the government’s gas strategy at Chatham House, defending the decision by highlighting the necessity of gas as a backup for renewables to prevent blackouts and ensure citizens’ comfort.

However, some analysts question the approach, citing concerns about energy price volatility and lack of control over gas prices in international markets. Moreover, the timing of the announcement coincides with escalating concerns over energy security following disruptions in gas exports from Russia due to geopolitical tensions.

The government’s stance on gas-fired power plants reflects broader political divisions over green policies, with differing timelines for decarbonization between the Conservative and Labour parties. Despite pledges to prioritize clean energy, both parties acknowledge the role of gas in providing backup power supplies, especially amidst delays in renewable and nuclear projects.

While the government aims to ensure that new gas plants are “net zero ready” and plans to broaden laws to include hydrogen as a fuel source, critics argue that policy failures have hindered progress in renewable energy infrastructure and energy efficiency initiatives.

The proposed changes to electricity market arrangements, including zonal pricing, aim to incentivize renewables developers to build closer to demand centers. However, concerns persist about the potential impact of net zero-related costs on lower-income consumers, highlighting the need for equitable energy transition policies.

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