Who has the energy to tackle bad air?

Energy Bill has extensive experience working for suppliers, TPIs and other energy companies. Still employed in the industry, he writes exclusively for ELN on the energy issues of the day. […]

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By Energy Bill

Energy Bill has extensive experience working for suppliers, TPIs and other energy companies. Still employed in the industry, he writes exclusively for ELN on the energy issues of the day.

Asthma did for my sports career. That’s what I tell myself. It couldn’t have been down to a lack of talent. After all, I have a medal from an interclass soccer tournament when I was ten years old. I was put in goal and played behind some kids who went on to make their living from the game but I’m sure I would have made a vital contribution if I’d ever touched the ball.

Britain’s politicians have dropped the ball on air quality a few times now. With the European Commission having waved a yellow card at the country recently, MPs have reluctantly put on their boots and agreed to investigate emissions levels.

London and the South East were covered in European and African dust particles in early April. People with breathing and other health difficulties were warned to stay at home. It’s easy to dismiss this as an isolated incident – both Boris Johnson and David Cameron did. After all, it’s decades since London had a proper peasouper.

However, bad air has serious costs for the UK. According to the Environmental Audit Committee, air pollution kills more people every year than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity. A study at a hospital in Tooting suggested one in 50 heart attacks in London may be triggered by air pollution.

Now you might think that energy has as much in common with air quality as rugby does with football. However, energy use and supply accounts for a large proportion of air pollution.

While British air quality is improving, things are not moving fast enough. Key pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which cause or aggravate lung and respiratory conditions, have strong correlations to energy usage. It looks to me like the UK will struggle to hit its 2020 targets for reducing these.

This makes it all the more mystifying to me why the Tories would announce that they will withdraw support for onshore wind if they win the next election. The UK needs more low-emission generation, not less.

My asthma has improved since my teens, though strangely, my football career never took off.  Perhaps, like some Tory politicians, I haven’t really thought through cause and effect on particular issues.