August 11, 2008

‘Energy Security’ Does Not Justify Kingsnorth

By James Marriott


ThE GREAT gathering of tents that is the Climate Camp is spread across a field midway between the villages of Hoo St Werburgh and High Halstow in north Kent. These two have been farming communities for perhaps 40 generations, but now they are overshadowed by the great hulk of Kingsnorth power station and the electricity pylons that run from it. How was it that the marshes of Hoo - so good for grazing cattle and sheep, so rich in birdlife - were turned into a site for a power station - with its chimneys and access roads, its spoil fields and loading jetties?

In 1951, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later renamed BP, was desperate to build refineries in the UK, as 80 per cent of its refining capacity had just been nationalised by the Iranian state. The British government, which owned the majority shareholding in AIOC, was also deeply concerned about "energy security". Government and company hurriedly developed the largest refinery in Britain, on the Isle Grain, five miles east of Hoo.

The refinery gave birth to two power stations, both built by the Central Electricity Generating Board: in the 1960s the dual-fuelled Kingsnorth, burning coal and oil, and in the 1970s the single- fuelled Grain, burning just oil. Eventually, after 30 years of production the oil refinery began to close. The final chimney was blown down in 1984, but the landscape remained dominated by its children - the two power stations, now owned by E.ON.

The decisions that radically altered this area were made in the early 1950s, 60s and 70s. All of them were made in the closed rooms of Whitehall and company offices, far from public scrutiny. Over the past few years a similar process has been taking place between E.ON and the government's successive departments responsible for energy. The discussions have focused on the construction of a new coal- fired plant at Kingsnorth - which will emit between six and eight million tons of CO2 every year. More than the projected emissions from Heath-row's planned third runway.

To undertake such a project was bound to be contentious, and both the company and the government have been striving to make the case for Kingsnorth. The arguments centre around "the energy gap", spreading the fear that "the lights will go out". As with 60 years ago, the government is driven by it's concern over "energy security". Whilst the company is driven by the need to generate a profitable return for its institutional shareholders.

But this time the situation is different. The negotiations have been made public, and at the Climate Camp people are demanding that "climate security" should be put before shareholder return, and that "energy security" can be achieved by other means than by burning coal. And to demand that the proposed new power station at Kingsnorth should not be built.

James Marriott is a co-director of Platform and lives near Kingsnorth

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