Wednesday 1 January 2014

Blog: My meltdown of a New Year’s power plant resolution

Blog: My meltdown of a New Year’s power plant resolution

I've always been known for being a tad over ambitious by friends, family, university tutors - the latter were admirably tolerant of my musical about robots. (It'll be on the West End one day, mark my words...)

But a pledge to visit as many power stations as I could in 2013 was possibly my most ambitious yet.

Oh, how optimistic we are in January! Scribbled plans, lists, all the jottings of a really excellent plan, if only you could just muster yourself and do it.

By September, the giant map of Britain's power stations I had eagerly sellotaped together from A4 print-outs was flapping off the wall. It was time to take it down.

I was cruelly reminded of my abysmal failure over a boisterous family Christmas in Yorkshire. The drive up from London on the M1 past a string of chugging smokestacks was a real slap in the face.

Tactful as ever, my younger brother declared: “I'm glad we're finally at the stage where you're not talking about a power station tour. I just thought it was a bit depressing.”

Dad, a lifelong Paul Theroux fan, comforted me with the underwhelming notion it had been a good idea at the time.

Now it wasn’t 100% resolution meltdown: and a story of change emerges from the power plants I did manage to get around to.

Back in March, pitching up at Kingsnorth coal station with a cameraman on the day it officially closed was a sobering affair. The big old belle could have rumbled on for many a year.

Though coal plants often 40% of our power, without costly CCS technology – and what a jumble ministers have made of their support for that - they’re likely to be a dying breed in Britain.

Even if I’d wanted to, I couldn’t have visited a coal plant with CCS (although my lucky fellow reporter Priyanka Shrestha flew to Norway for some CCS action over the summer).

The same thing goes for Hinkley Point C – once upon a time, this year might have been a good one for new nuclear. As it is, 2013 has been the year of nuclear procrastination.

It may not be a power plant per se – but an unlikely trip to the Isle of Sheppey prisons and their new wind turbines was surely a sign of the times ahead. When even the Ministry of Justice wants a piece of the wind power pie, it must be going somewhere.

Likewise clambering up to a Brixton rooftop solar farm doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of a trip to Battersea Power Station. (My attempt to view that four-chimneyed beast on an open day was thwarted when they closed the queue, unable to cope with the flock of thousands who turned up.)

Nevertheless, a spot of Brixton sightseeing showed me that community energy is waiting in the wings, ready to claim a powerful crown of its own. Is there a revolution in the making?

I mustn’t forget the mini-festival in quaint Balcombe village either and their anti-fracking shenanigans. Despite the Chancellor’s new tax breaks for shale gas, the frackers can expect a bumpy ride in 2014.

And though I didn’t make the trip up to Drax myself, an ELN crew toured that reigning champ of British power stations to see its conversion to biomass. Slowly but surely, the tectonic plates of our energy system are shifting.

So perhaps my 2013 resolution was only 80% failure, 20% blagging. I’ve got the green light from my editor to give it another go. Here’s to hoping my 2014 tour is fully fired up - and not another meltdown.

Written by

Bruna Pinhoni

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