Could public support for renewables derail UK fracking and nuclear projects?

Amid a wave of discontent over the controversial fracking and Hinkley Point nuclear plant projects, recent developments suggest the general public are vying for low-carbon technologies to form the focal point of the UK Government's clean energy mix.

A YouGov poll published today (15 August) revealed that only 33% of the 1,704 people surveyed would support shale gas exploration in their local area even if efforts were made to incentivise communities through payments.

The Government’s recent plans to pay up to £10,000 for households affected by the practice has seemingly failed to capture the mood of the public, with today’s poll showing that 43% remain ‘strongly’ opposed to fracking.

Commenting on the survey findings, Friends of the Earth senior political strategist Liz Hutchins said: “The Government are desperate to show support for shale gas exploration, and recent headlines that offered cash payments were meant to bolster, not diminish, support.

“But when you look at the details of the scheme, any cash for households would only be after shale exploration, and would be derived from taxation on profits. It all seems a pretty unlikely and distant proposition.

“What we do know is that the more people learn about fracking and what it could mean for their health and environment, the more opposed they could be. And it’s clear from this survey that they haven’t been fooled by the Government’s latest bribe.”

‘Mature solution’

Public backlash to the Government’s fracking proposals comes amid continued political and business opposition to another contentious energy project, the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

As Theresa May’s administration re-examines the case for nuclear reactors at the Somerset plant, the Crown Estate’s energy, minerals and infrastructure director has put forward a strong case for offshore wind to act as an alternative, affordable provider of clean and reliable energy. 

Speaking to the Guardian at the weekend, Huub den Rooijen commented on the sector’s ability to deliver “on time and to budget”.

“In the Netherlands, there has been an even bigger step change,” Rooijen said. “Although there are differences in terms of regulation, most would agree that after a recent offshore wind tender the Dutch are now going to be paying the equivalent of about £80 per MWh for their 700MW windfarm. That is significantly lower than Hinkley Point C at £92.50 per MWh.

“We have an inexhaustible supply of reliable and clean power right on our doorstep, and competitively priced offshore wind now offers a mature part of the solution for the UK’s energy mix.”

Green alternative

These recent developments reflect a growing consensus among industry experts that renewable alternatives to the Hinkley and fracking projects would be both environmentally beneficial and financially cost-effective for the UK’s long-term supply of reliable energy.

Last week, the Shale Wealth Fund publication revealed that payments of up to £10m during a site’s lifetime will not be provided for communities until a new fracking well is up and running – at least five years after initial exploration.

Research at the start of this month also found that installing energy efficiency measures could be £12 billion cheaper than the construction of Hinkley.

Earlier this year, think-tank analysis revealed that scrapping plans for new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and building huge amounts of renewable power instead would save the UK tens of billions of pounds.

George Ogleby

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