UK energy plan promotes nuclear and renewables

Nuclear power "must be on the agenda" to ensure a secure energy supply and meet Britain's climate change goals, Tony Blair said as the Energy White Paper was unveiled on Wednesday.

The document backed nuclear as a “low carbon source,” although the question of whether new nuclear plants should be built remains under consultation until October. A final decision must be reached by the end of the year, Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said.

Launching the paper, he said: “We face two big challenges – climate change and maintaining stable and affordable energy supply in an increasingly unstable world.

“We will triple the amount of electricity we get from renewables by 2015. We want to lead in the development of carbon capture and storage. And we will consult on the significant role that new nuclear power stations could play in cutting emissions and diversifying our supply.”

Renewables are set to play an increasing role but “the current high costs and low level of penetration of many of these technologies will mean that, even with substantial growth, they will not keep pace with the need for new electricity generation capacity, as existing coal and nuclear power stations close,” the White Paper states.

Britain’s current power mix comprises coal and gas providing about a third of total supply each, nuclear accounting for about a fifth, and renewables around 4%. The Government aims to raise the renewables share to 10% by 2010, incentivising it through the Renewables Obligation.

Renewables funding should amount to around £1bn a year in 2010, rising to £2bn a year in 2020, through the RO and the Climate Change Levy.

By 2009, the RO will be “banded” with varying levels of support for different types of green energy to ensure a range of renewable sources develops. RO banding is the subject of a consultation launched alongside the White Paper.

Ministers also promised to remove barriers to connecting renewables projects to the transmission grid by working together with Ofgem and the National Grid. There is also a series of measures to promote energy efficiency.

As for nuclear power, the paper describes it as a “low carbon energy source” which would help achieve the UK’s emission reduction goals.

“We recognise that, as with all generation technologies, there are advantages and disadvantages with new nuclear power. But having reviewed the evidence and information available we believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and that the disadvantages can be effectively managed.”

With fossil fuels set to play a major role “for some time to come,” the White Paper also commits to cleaning up coal and gas generation using carbon capture and storage once it is up and working on a commercial scale.

Environmental groups criticised the backing given to nuclear. Greenpeace, which had managed to delay the publication of the paper after it successfully challenged the Government in the High Courth forcing it to re-launch the nuclear consultation, said that backing nuclear deprives renewable sources of the funding they need to develop.

Greenpeace director John Sauven said: “If ministers go down the nuclear route they will strangle the new, clean energy technologies of the investment and political support they need.

“Reaching for nuclear power to fight climate change is like an obese person taking up smoking to lose weight. It’s a dangerous and expensive distraction in the fight against global warming.”

The full White Paper can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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