Ed Davey: Irresponsible Tories betting the nation on gas and nuclear

Former Energy Secretary Ed Davey has accused the current Government of playing "fast and loose" with the UK's long-term energy security by prioritising gas and nuclear investment over support for low-carbon and renewable energy sources.

Davey, who played a pivotal role during office in securing the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station deal, told BBC Newsnight on Thursday (15 September) that he was not opposed to the project itself, but expressed concern that the Conservatives were undermining cheaper low-carbon alternatives. 

“I think the Conservatives are making a huge error,” he said. “They’re putting all the nation’s eggs in the nuclear and gas basket. They’ve basically demolished onshore wind, they’ve restricted offshore wind, they’re not taking tidal lagoons forward, they’ve undermined investment on energy efficiency and they’ve closed down Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), another low-carbon technology. They’re betting the nation on gas and nuclear and that is irresponsible.”

‘Energy policy disaster’

The Liberal Democrat politician claimed he struck a favourable deal for Hinkley by ensuring nuclear decommissioning costs were in the strike price, while protecting the UK taxpayer from any form of payment until the nuclear reactor is fully operational.

The most pressing concern with the Hinkley proposal is that it could be unbuildable, Davey stated, citing that the only two plants with similar EPR reactors – Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in Normandy – have been beset with construction problems. In the light of this evidence, Davey emphasised the importance of continued wind and solar expansion for the UK’s energy security.

He continued: “I ensured we had lots of low-carbon sources and we had lots of options. That is the cautious, sensible thing to do to protect Britain. The Tories are playing fast and loose, because they are taking low-carbon renewables off the table and placing all their eggs in one basket. So while this deal itself may be a good thing, actually they’re whole energy policy has been a disaster.”

Value for money?

Davey’s comments arrived on the same day as the Hinkley deal was given the go-ahead by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, ending months of speculation and dividing opinion among Britain’s industry groups and environmentalists.

The project is the first new nuclear reactor to be built in the UK in two decades. Development has already fallen eight years behind schedule and the power plant is not expected to be up and running until 2025 at the earliest.

With an agreed strike price of £92.50/MWh, critics have continually questioned Hinkley’s value for money, particularly when the cost of renewable alternatives is falling fast. The power station is predicted to provide 7% of the UK’s current electricity demand, adding more than £37bn to consumer bills.

A recent report from Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) found that the UK could meet its future energy and climate change targets for cheaper without building Hinkley, through the continued development of renewables and energy efficiency measures. 

edie timeline: Hinkley Point’s approval 

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George Ogleby

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