The troubled EDF nuclear power station development at Hinkley Point in North Somerset is already set to be the most expensive building on earth; even before the builders inevitably fail to live up to the promise to provide it “on time and within budget”. But even if, by some miracle, EDF are able to deliver, the guaranteed £92.50 per Mw/h price to consumers will be too high for many businesses to remain profitable. The high price is also likely to drive millions of ordinary households into fuel poverty; with the very poorest no longer able to access electricity at all.
The UK government’s stated reason for pushing ahead with the project is their old favourite TINA – “there is no alternative”. The only way in which Britain can meet its climate targets while keeping the lights on is to replace coal with nuclear. The government fails to mention that with prices twice as high as today, the lights (or more pertinently, businesses and households) aren’t going to be working anyway!
Now it seems that the government’s TINA mantra is entirely wrong. According to the Intergenerational Foundation, not only can we do without the Hinkley C plant, we can build the energy infrastructure that we need at significantly lower cost:
“Analysis carried out by the Intergenerational Foundation think tank compared the potential cost of the new plant to onshore wind and solar photovoltaic energy (PV), concluding that both renewable technologies offer better value-for-money for taxpayers. It also outlined that a combination of solar, wind, tidal, and rooftop solar-PV models could counter the sporadic nature of the natural sources to produce reliable and consistent energy output.”
The Intergenerational Foundation argue that over the course of the lifetime of Hinkley C, £30-40bn running costs will added to the projected £24.5bn construction costs – all of which have to be recovered from end-users. A renewables-based alternative could be constructed for less than this; and at scale, current concerns about baseload would be ironed out. Since the “fuel” for a renewables package (wind, sunlight, rainfall and tides) are abundant, the cost of operating an alternative infrastructure would provide savings to customers of around £40bn.
However, the UK government has made clear that this is not about energy:
“it [Hinkley C] will secure thousands of jobs and benefit companies in the supply chain.”
By which, they mean the various international banks and corporations that will yet again get fat on the backs of ordinary UK households and businesses; and not, I suspect, the workforce of manufacturing businesses that will have to shut up shop or move abroad to avoid high energy prices.