Coal comfort

Eyebrows were raised this week over the scale of the police operation that led to the arrest – and subsequent release – of the 114 environmentalists believed to be planning protests at the Ratcliffe on Soar coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire.

Eyebrows were raised this week over the scale of the police operation that led to the arrest – and subsequent release – of the 114 environmentalists believed to be planning protests at the Ratcliffe on Soar coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire.

However, in the aftermath of the latest chapter in the ’war against coal’, it was the comments of one of the protestors’ supporters – and not a heavy-handed police response – that garnered the most headlines.

Talking on Tuesday’s Radio 4 Today programme, Bob Andrews, a spokesman for Eastside Climate Action, called for all coal-powered stations to be shut down immediately.

Andrews’ comments were justifiably ridiculed. Like it or not, 34 per cent of the UK’s power is derived from coal. Switch it off immediately and there would be barely enough to cover base load. He’s right. It would lead to a reduction in emissions, but it would also finish off many areas of industry currently struggling to survive and, by condemning much of the UK to regular periods of darkness, it could have profound social implications.

So why are we bothering to dignify Andrew’s argument with a response? He’s hardly the mouthpiece for the renewables sector.

The problem is that this is exactly the kind of pointless debate we can expect more of if the government fails to deliver on its repeated promises to invest heavily in renewables.

Before the recession struck, advocates of wind, solar, wave and tidal power – once sneered at by the energy giants – had fought their way into the mainstream. Six months on, after a succession of mothballed projects, the sector has lost ground and its advocates are being forced once again to the sidelines. And as history has repeatedly shown when a cause becomes marginalised, extreme views have a tendency to bubble to the surface.

The government needs to act fast to put low-carbon, renewable technology to the centre stage before the hard-won middle ground is lost and replaced with the unedifying and tragic spectacle of extreme opinions slugging it out for air time.

Jon Excell, deputy editor