Few surprises from Energy Review

A new generation of nuclear power stations and measures to boost renewables are, as widely predicted, at the heart of the Government's Energy Review.

The long-awaited findings of the review were published on Tuesday, July 11, and have met with a mixed response from the environmental sector which has welcomed proposals to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix but, by and large, has been angered by the drive for new nuclear.

The review also calls for improved energy efficiency, a streamlined planning system to ensure projects can be delivered faster and a concerted effort to clean up electricity generation from fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

Government also plans to step up efforts to exploit remaining gas and oil reserves in the North Sea.

Alistair Darling, Trade and Industry Secretary, said: “We face two big challenges, climate change and the need to provide secure cleaner energy at affordable prices.

“Here in the UK there are specific challenges. As our North Sea oil and gas production declines, our dependence on imports from the global energy market will increase. Our forecasts suggest that, over the next twenty years, up to a third of our existing generating capacity will reach the end of its life.

“This is a critical moment to make informed choices to safeguard our quality of life for the coming decades. Today’s proposals will set out a framework within which the energy market will operate for the coming 30 to 40 years.”

As well as help for homeowners and businesses wishing to improve energy efficiency, there would be a phasing out of ineffient appliances, he said.

On renewables, the Secretary said: “The proportion of electricity generated from renewables needs to increase substantially so we are strengthening and reforming the Renewables Obligation to push this towards 20% – a five-fold increase on today’s level.

“We’re proposing major reforms to promote this and other clean energy sources, including steps to remove barriers to carbon capture to ensure cleaner coal and gas.”

On the prickly subject of nuclear, he added: “Nuclear power already accounts for almost a fifth of our electricity but this is likely to drop to just 6% by 2020.

“Our analysis suggests that, alongside other low carbon generating options, a new generation of nuclear power stations could make a contribution to reducing carbon emissions and reducing our reliance on imported energy.”

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, who headed up the Review, said: “It’s not possible in 2006 to make all the policy decisions needed up to 2050. Circumstances will change, technology in particular will advance, but today’s proposals set us more firmly on track to achieving our energy policy objectives.

“Together our proposals would result by 2020 in a reduction in annual carbon emissions of 19-25 million tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of the annual emissions of Austria or Greece.

“Together with the steps we have already announced, these ambitious proposals are a significant step in the right direction, getting us on course to achieve real progress in emissions reductions by 2020 and on the right path to achieving our goal of cutting the UK’s CO2 emissions by some 60% by about 2050.”

The review has not been universally welcomed by politicians, both at home and abroad. Mayor of London Ken Livingstone dismissed a new wave of nuclear reactors a ‘colossal mistake’.

“We need a solution to the climate change that protects the environment rather than threatens it, and one that does not literally cost the earth,” he told reporters.

“Nothing in the review leads me to change my mind that commissioning a new generation of nuclear will be a huge waste of precious time and money, and a real diversion from the critical task of cutting carbon emissions.

“There is widespread opposition amongst Londoners to nuclear power and the movement of nuclear waste around the capital.”

The Irish Government, a long-time opponent of the Sellafield nuclear plant and the perceived risk it presents to Ireland, was also unimpressed.

Environment Minister Dick Roche said his colleagues were disappointed, if not surprised, and would be registering their concerns with the UK.

“The issues for Ireland arising from decisions made by the UK on nuclear policy are well known and long standing,” he said.

“Environmental consequences have arisen for Ireland from historic and ongoing discharges to the sea from Sellafield and the potential risk of a serious accident or incident at nuclear plants including Sellafield.”

“The problem of Sellafield amplifies our concerns about decisions the UK Government might make in regard to using nuclear power.

“We do not accept the argument put forward by the UK Government that the nuclear option provides a solution to problems of climate change and energy supply. The reality is that the nuclear industry carries with it serious environmental, nuclear proliferation and safety risks.

“The hitching of nuclear to the climate change wagon is both simplistic and disingenuous.”

The nuclear industry is, as might be expected, pleased with the review. Bill Coley, CEO of British Energy, the company which manages the UK’s nuclear power stations welcomed the review, saying: “Nuclear energy is a near-zero carbon source of base load electricity generation, and can play a significant role in combating climate change and contribute to security of supply for the UK.”

The Chemical Industries Association, one of the country’s most powerful trade associations, was more reserved in its praise, welcoming the content of the review but saying there was now an urgency to deliver.

Steve Elliott, chief executive of the association, said: “Chemical businesses appreciate the need for debate, and hopefully consensus, on these important plans to provide reliable, competitively priced energy that will also deliver the Government’s commitments to reducing carbon emissions.

“Now is the time to put words into action and to resolve what is fast becoming the UK energy crisis.”

Environmental groups have condemned the review, with Friends of the Earth arguing that the proposed changes to the planning system that will fast track nuclear build are equivalent to a state subsidy that will give atomic power an unfair advantage over renewables.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive for the Scottish branch of the NGO, said: “Slashing safety regulations and driving a short-cut through planning safeguards is as real a subsidy for nuclear power, as if Government had simply bunged it a very large brown envelope full of used £50 notes.

“This will cause severe economic distortions in the energy market, leading to devastating uncertainty for the desirable renewable energy and energy conservation projects that the rest of the Review proposes.

“What Ministers are giving with one hand, they are more than taking away with the other.”

Sam Bond

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