There is something very wrong in the world when climate campaigners find themselves on the same side of an energy debate as arch climate change denier Lord Lawson. That, however, is exactly where we find ourselves following the government’s insane decision to proceed with the nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. According to Lawson, who is still hopeful that cost and build overruns will allow a future government to pull out:
“It is a lousy contract and the sooner it is ended the better.”
Even the government’s own energy and climate change advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has gone as far as it is allowed to express its disapproval.
Of course, we have to dig behind the diplomatic language in their statement to tease this out. However, we must consider their statement in the light of the kind of glowing PR spin that we would have been treated to had the CCC wanted to give a glowing endorsement to the Hinkley Point C decision.
First, there is no requirement for the CCC to tell us that:
“[The CCC] does not comment on specific projects although it monitors their effectiveness. It is for Government and Parliament to decide the mix of market incentives, projects and policies used to meet those carbon budgets.”
In other words, this is nothing to do with us and if you don’t like it, don’t blame us; talk to you MP about it. Nevertheless:
“The CCC’s advice on progress against those budgets is anchored in an assessment of the impact on UK competitiveness, on fuel poor households and on broader energy policy and other factors (including scientific knowledge), as required under the Climate Change Act.” (My emphasis)
Which is another way of saying that at £92.50 per MW we can pretty much kiss goodbye to any chance of UK businesses being able to compete in international markets in future; we can expect many more households to experience fuel poverty; oh, and by the way, by putting all of the energy eggs in the one basket, your future energy policy sucks… so don’t blame us when the lights go out.
The CCC goes out of its way to remind everyone that:
“It has taken about ten years to get the project at Hinkley Point to its current stage. Over that period, estimates of total cost have risen and the time required to realise the project has increased. There remain significant risks to the delivery of the Hinkley power station. A prudent energy policy will involve sufficient investment across low-carbon technologies to ensure that power output and carbon targets can be met given the risk of delays at Hinkley.”
This is about as far as they are allowed to go in warning us that the odds of this project coming in on time and within budget are a little less than zero. Given that the other two versions of the Hinkley C reactor which are being built in Finland and Normandy are well behind schedule as a result of technical problems (not a term you want to hear applied to the biggest nuclear power station to be built on UK soil) it is doubtful that Hinkley C will be providing a single watt of power this side of 2030.
Not that the CCC is against nuclear power entirely:
“New nuclear power can help to reduce emissions in the power sector in a number of ways, particularly acting alongside intermittent renewable generation in a low-carbon mix of technologies. However, as set out in the CCC’s reports, there are many mixes of different low-carbon technologies compatible with reducing emissions from the power sector (e.g. nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), offshore and onshore wind, solar power, hydro and tidal).”
In other words, the use of much smaller, modular – and especially fourth generation – nuclear can have a part to play in the UK’s future energy mix. But just in case we didn’t get the message yet:
“Energy policy – and the wider UK emissions reduction plan – cannot be dependent on any single project.”
Which is all a very roundabout way of saying; “we agree with Lord Lawson… this really is a lousy deal.”