Ed Davey MP writes: Hinkley Point – we need to have all low carbon options in play

Davey Windmills - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsClimate change is one of the greatest threats facing our planet – if we don’t tackle it we will continue to see extinction of species on an industrial scale, parts of our world will become uninhabitable for humans, and we will see increasing conflict between nations over scarce resources and the mass migration of impoverished peoples.  We need to step up to this environmental challenge and use all of our ingenuity and resourcefulness to meet it head-on.

As the Secretary of State I’m determined to use all of my powers to make sure that Britain leads the way in sourcing the energy we need from low carbon sources.   That way, we can reduce the damaging emissions that are affecting our planet, whilst ensuring we are able to keep the lights on and protect consumers from increasing energy bills.

Yesterday I announced that, after careful deliberation, I have granted planning permission for the construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, which if built will be Britain’s largest ever low carbon power station.

But to be clear, the decision I reached was based on planning issues only. There remain issues over the cost of nuclear generation and funding decommissioning that we are still considering.  But I also need to be upfront: it would be extremely difficult to meet our targets to tackle climate change without investment in new low carbon nuclear power.

As a Government I am proud that we have tripled the investment available for low-carbon energy generation to £7.6 billion; we are the first Government to take seriously the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage, providing a billion pounds to bring forward an effective scheme; and our Energy Bill will produce the world’s first ever low carbon electricity market.   In addition, the Green Deal is off to a very encouraging start and looks set to transform the energy efficiency of people’s homes.  So new low carbon nuclear power generation is yet another key part of our programme for protecting our planet, keeping the lights on in Britain and ensuring we get a good deal for consumers.

There are, of course, issues that still need to be resolved.  The Coalition Agreement will be maintained. There will be no public subsidy for these new nuclear power stations – and the cost of clean-up and disposal of nuclear waste must, for the first time ever in the UK, be met by the industry in the future.  We are also insisting on the highest possible standard of safety and carefully consider a package of community benefits.

This multi-billion pound low carbon power plant will be capable of powering five million homes and will bring huge economic benefits, with thousands of new jobs.

As a party we’ve rightly been highly critical of the massive subsidies, short-term thinking and shoddy behaviour that we’ve seen in the nuclear industry in past decades, and kept a healthy scepticism about it.

As Secretary of State I am determined we don’t repeat those past mistakes. We have taken time and care at every stage – and continue to do so. I make no apology for not ducking the difficult choices that are necessary to do all we can to protect our planet for future generations.  The threat from climate change is getting worse and more urgent and I’m now convinced that this risk means we need to have all low carbon options in play.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Acting co-Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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30 Comments

  • Paul Pettinger 20th Mar '13 - 2:25pm

    “There will be no public subsidy for these new nuclear power stations” – you are paraphrasing the Coalition Agreement, not sincerely reflecting the actions of this Govt, who seek to fix the price of energy produced by nuclear so as to make it viable, and thus artificially increasing energy bills.
    I would much rather renewables received greater subsidy, even if it meant a route through a period of greater reliance on gas (we can continue to replace coal with gas and still carry on reducing emissions), than strapping ourselves to old and expensive Nuclear fission.

  • What I would like to know is whether the money we are spending subsidising renewables and effectively nuclear (through guaranteed pricing) would not be better diverted directly to funding much greater activity in terms of energy efficiency measures.

    It seems like the Green Deal, given its low takeup, is a flop, given people’s unwillingness to take on debt to fund domestic improvements. If we can cut the amount of energy we need in the UK even more drastically than is currently planned, by putting more money behind efficiency improvements, then we can sidestep the need for new capacity to a great extent.

    What methods of assessment do we use at present to balance up the equation of investment in new capacity versus investment in energy efficiency at the moment?

  • Steve Bradley 20th Mar '13 - 3:14pm

    “As a party we’ve rightly been highly critical of the massive subsidies, short-term thinking and shoddy behaviour that we’ve seen in the nuclear industry in past decades”

    Ahhh yes – the whorry old chestnut that things will somehow be different, somehow be better next time – even with the same people involved. Isn’t that what they said about the tobacco, asbestos, oil,banking etc industries too…?

    A Liberal Democrat Minister in government is pushing forward aggressively with nuclear power, just as his Liberal Democrat predecessor did – despite our party membership being at best sceptical about nuclear power, and even broadly opposed to it. And Lib Dems in government are on the verge of agreeing massive price subsidies for nuclear – a mature industry which after almost 70yrs still cannot survive economically without state support. Weasel words won’t mask the fact that subsidising nuclear directly and indirectly is what this government is about to do. And all despite our party having specific policy against subsidising nuclear.

    And that’s before we get on to the very long timescales required to have ‘new’ nuclear stations actually in a position to start delivering energy – 10+ years. By which time we’ll already be right in the thick of the long-predicted ‘energy crisis’. And where will we put all the new nuclear waste, now that even Cumbria – the county with the greatest vested interest in nuclear – has said that it won’t store the current waste we’ve already got, let alone any new toxins ?

    For my money a better, cheaper solution than nuclear – one that is actually much more likely to deliver on time – is to commence a nationwide programme of energy demand reduction, combined with enabling a genuine revolution in the provision of micro-generated power (ideally with a strongly liberal community component), and using gas as a medium-termn back-up to deal with issues of intermittency. This is the answer – not an economic basketcase technology that other major economies have firmly turned their backs on (e.g. Japan and Germany).

    Yet another long cherished Lib Dem principle gets chucked onto the bonfire by those in Ministerial Bentleys. There’ll shortly be so little left of what our party has stood for over the years that we’ll all start to wonder what exactly we’ve got left to campaign for…..

    Steve Bradley – Chair Green Liberal Democrats
    (Written in an entirely personal capacity btw :o)

  • Jack Aidley 20th Mar '13 - 3:28pm

    Dear Ed Davey,

    While I agree with, and embrace the coalitions actions on nuclear power, and support the introduction of carbon capture. It’s all drastically undermined by the coalition first permitting and now subsidising shale gas extraction. If we burn just the *existing* supplies of oil and gas enough carbon will be released into the atmosphere to make the two degree target a thing of the past. Putting great effort into inefficient methods of extracting yet more gas will simply make the matter worse.

    If you want to show that the government is actually serious about climate change rather than simply interested in appearing to be concerned you need to reverse the policy on shale gas and sharpish.

  • jenny barnes 20th Mar '13 - 5:47pm

    “we are the first Government to take seriously the prospects for Carbon Capture and Storage, providing a billion pounds to bring forward an effective scheme”

    You do realise that it takes 25% of the power produced to cool the exhaust gas? And if you can’t hold it for a thousand years or more under pressure, the net result is you just burnt 33 % more coal. It has never been shown to work at industrial scale. All you’re doing is pretending you can burn coal and not have the CO2 exhaust.

    Clean coal – also known as coal.

  • It’s Hinkley Point. Hinckley is a different place altogether.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Mar '13 - 7:49am

    Nuclear energy has never been a green issue, to store spent fuel rods for many years, and we have experience when it goes wrong in this sector.

    No that long ago after severe storms in Japan, and I understand from recent reports things are not back to normal.

    I thought green energy was something that your Party had great faith in, this is not green energy. I would say it is blue energy.

  • jenny barnes 21st Mar '13 - 9:32am

    The geological formations that CO2 will be pumped into held natural gas just fine for tens of millions of years – they will be fine with CO2

    I’m sure they did. But it’s not the geological formations that will fail, it’s the wells and the containment of the holes drilled in that formation. Average MTBF on that sort of failure is, I believe, around 20 years.
    And your solution for the extra 33% of coal that will be burnt? Peak coal is expected (on current trends) around 2050-80… what then?

  • By 2080 the world will be running on solar power.

  • The French have had PWR Nuclear generation for more than 25 years so isn’t it time to get real?
    Gas Plant has an efficiency of 55% at best the same gas ina condensing domestic boiler has a 90% efficiency It doesn’t make long term sense to keep throwing away 35% of the energy in Turbine condenser cooling water.
    Can I recommend Prof David Spiegelhauser’s writing on nuclear risk, very enlightening.

  • @ BrianD – The French have been shovelling tax-payer money at their nuclear industry for decades and are proud of it. We dont do things like that.

    Adding district heating systems on to gas power stations (as they have been doing in Scandinavia for decades) can increase efficiency to over 90%.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st Mar '13 - 9:35pm

    Last July we installed a 12 panel, 3kWp photovoltaic system on the roof of our house. The building faces in a less than perfect south-westerly direction. Eight months have passed since its installation. Despite being the wrong side of the peak solar strength, the dismal summer and half the time being winter months, the system has, on balance fallen just 50kW short of providing a balance between electrical energy generated and consumed. We have also used some of the electricity to heat our water thereby saving on gas and CO2 emissions.

    OK, generation during the winter months, say late October to early March, was hardly wonderful. But it just so happens this roughly coincides with some of the strongest winds and most powerful waves coming off the Atlantic. Why aren’t we doing more in that direction? And what about tidal barrages, hot-rock and smaller scale ground, solar thermal and air to water sources?

    The vast majority of new homes being built are still without micro-generation features, we have shops with wide open doors during freezing weather (while the staff shivers inside), people leaving appliances on standby and boiling full kettles of water etc.

    To scarce landfill sites we commit millions of tons of plastic and cellulose-based packaging and other combustible materials every year instead of extracting the energy they contain by burning the non-recyclable waste in coal power stations.

    We have electricity pylons criss-crossing the country. These are clearly invisible to many opponents of wind turbines. I appreciate electricity can not be fed directly into these high voltage cables but could not electricity generated from relatively small turbines fixed to the top of each pylon be carried in an additional low voltage cable to nearby town or village substations for local use?

    We need some genuine creative thinking here. If supermarkets can claim every little helps, why can’t energy companies and the government? How about some newspaper or even good old fashioned public service broadcasting to help people save energy and cut their bills? Something never done by Labour or the Tories.

    I fully accept that energy conservation and non-industrial scale generation will not be powerful or flexible enough to fill the energy gap for some decades but without question that they would create many more local jobs in small and medium-sized companies than capital-intensive nuclear power ever will. Whatever large-scale generation sources we select, they need to be compatible with small scale generation and responsive enough to be switched on and off to coincide with the peaks and troughs in renewable forms of generation. I don’t know the answer to this question but might coal and gas combined with carbon capture and geo-storage may be a better match than nuclear?

    So, nuclear; without going into its many problems, what will we do with the waste? Literally billions of pounds projected costs to deal with the waste we have today – costs conveniently ignored by the nuclear industry in its figures. And what would a small highly populated island do in the event of a major accident at a nuclear power station situated on its western side and upwind of major population centre? Hinkley Point and Bridgewater/Bristol/Bath?

    As noted in other posts, much of the developed world is actively seeking alternatives to nuclear fission – bringing with it investment and jobs in new engineering and scientific (and potentially exportable) solutions. Meanwhile Britain seeks costly, big business solutions from abroad to solve the energy crisis.

    Ed Davey is not responsible for any of the historical problems but he and his Liberal Democrat cabinet colleagues can have a major impact on the future paths Britain decides to follow. In this Ed needs to listen to his heart and mind – not to mention the green soul of the Liberal Democrats – rather than to the short termism of the Tories and their big business friends.

    Now we have achieved the £10000 tax threshold, perhaps a truly green energy and environmental strategy should be our next target?

  • @jedibeeftrix “The lights going out in 2020 maybe”
    Probably much sooner and possibly before the end of this parliament, remember we’ve been lucky, both by being able to extend the life of existing generating capacity and have had mild winters, plus an economic downturn for the last few years which has helped to keep (winter) demand down.

    @MBoy “By 2080 the world will be running on solar power.”
    I don’t see much of a problem beyond circa 2050, given current attitudes to population grow, energy and food security and sustainability, I anticipate the world population to crash well before then.

    @MBoy “Adding district heating systems on to gas power stations (as they have been doing in Scandinavia for decades) can increase efficiency to over 90%.”
    Including district geothermal heating systems in new build estates (along with other energy saving measures) would also have a significant impact on the need for new generating capacity.

  • Steve Bolter 22nd Mar '13 - 1:03am

    The traditional Lib Dem opposition to nuclear power is a relic of the days when nuclear electricity was a by-product of the production of nuclear weapons. Then we quite correctly highlighted all the risks of the nuclear processes.

    When we me to consider the dangers from civil nuclear energy we need to adopt a rational viewpoint. While 1kg of nuclear waste is far more dangerous than 1kg of CO2, one has to remember that the amount of waste produced by a modern nuclear power station is much smaller than the waste produced by the generation of a similar amount of energy from fossil fuel. Risks to human health and well-being from nuclear plants are much smaller than from fossil fuel plants and chemical plants (e.g. pesticide production) . Remember Bhopal.

    We are a long way from being able to depend entirely on renewable 24 hours per day 365 days per year . The short term low carbon alternative to nuclear, as an extra energy source, is gas with carbon capture and storage. Without nuclear we would need to draw on the more difficult to exploit gas reserves such as those in shale..

    The vast amounts of waste from shale gas extraction will be far more difficult to deal with the small amount of additional radio active waste another generation of nuclear power stations would produce. Likewise storing vast amounts of captured “carbon” for ever will be far more difficult than storing a much smaller quantity of radioactive waste that decays .

    Ed is not proposing to abandon energy saving or abandoning the aim to to get most of our energy from renewables. He is simply wanting a small proportion of our electricity production to be nuclear, to reduce the amount of gas, oil and coal we will have to burn when renewable output is low.

    Well done Ed!!!

    Steve Bolter, Member of Green Lib Dem Exec, writing in a PERSONAL capacity.

  • Stephen Hesketh 22nd Mar '13 - 4:52pm

    @ Joe “Give us another 20 reactors and I will be happy” Otten – Hmm do you have any connection with the said industry … or do you just live miles away from where they would be built?

    @ Geoff Crocker. I recall your article and that a number of your suggestions were well thought out. However some comments, such as the visual impact of turbines, are subjective. I actually like them and given the choice between one of Joe’s reactors or a bank of turbines on my doorstep, I would choose the latter every time. But as to your wider point yes we do need a (liberal and democratic) comprehensive energy policy. And yes, that will almost certainly include a nuclear component.
    But surely Liberal Democrats can all agree that, energy-wise, we can not sensibly continue living and wasting energy (and other resources) as we do today.

    I would be the first to agree that none of the things I mentioned are anything like panaceas to the huge problem we are facing but until the responsibility for saving and generating a proportion of local energy needs is devolved to local communities we are not going to see any major move towards a green and sustainable future.

    Local people having the right and responsibility to choose would also do much to disarm the sales-chasing “we don’t want wind farms here” newspapers and the NIMBYS who just want to offload the issues of energy generation on to other communities.

    Given the need to choose I am sure people of all political persuasions and none would then demand much higher levels of energy conservation along with micro generation and the creative use of local sources of energy such as district heating schemes connected to existing generating capacity, geothermal, wind, wave, tidal, hydroelectric etc.

    I am absolutely convinced that a degree of local responsibility would unleash genuine local creativity in this area.

  • @Stephen Hesketh re “Give us another 20 reactors and I will be happy”

    That is actually about the number of reactors we actually need to build, due to the imminent decommissioning of existing generating capacity. As for where they sould be built, I have no problem with one going on the old Battersea power station site – it would be a much better use than any that have been proposed so far, it would also serve to minimise transmission losses… Given the size of the country and the experience with Chernobyl and Fukushima, it seems as good a place as any other and it would give the rest of the country an opportunity to turn the tables and call Londoners NIMBY’s.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Mar '13 - 8:42am

    Things change, I thought the Lib Dems were a Party for looking after the environment? How things change.

    We will need a safe place to store the fuel rods for many years, who would like them in their area…..

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Mar '13 - 11:00am

    @Helen Dudden – Apparently no one – but lets not worry about minor inconvenient details like that. I think the Polluter Pays principle might not go amiss though!

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Mar '13 - 11:09am

    @ RC “It seems like the Green Deal, given its low takeup, is a flop, given people’s unwillingness to take on debt to fund domestic improvements.”

    I for one think the Green Deal is great – see my post re our solar PV. People will take loans and remortgage their homes for all manner of things. It just depends on what they place value on. The fact is that, on the whole, people don’t seem to recognise the real dangers of global warming that we are heading towards. Nor the extent to which electricity and other energy prices are likely to rise.

    From what Ed Davey says in his article, I think (OK I hope) he is attempting to balance our long-standing scepticism towards nuclear power (based on all the safety, waste disposal, cost, terrorism and other issues) on one hand against the need to reduce CO2 emissions and maintain energy supplies on the other.

    My issue is that Osborne appears to keep managing to shift energy policy away from micro, small scale and local renewable approaches towards large-scale non-renewable generation methods.

    @ Ed Davey

    Ed, you amongst fellow Lib Dems here who, for the most part share your long-term interest in the environment and, as part of that, energy generation. Twice you use the term “new low carbon nuclear power generation”. I’m not sure if you are attempting to put some glossy PR spin that this is intrinsically different to old dirty nuclear power or simply saying that nuclear power is inherently low carbon and that you are granting permission for new nuclear capacity. I hope it is the latter.

    You also state “We need to step up to this environmental challenge and use all of our ingenuity and resourcefulness to meet it head-on.”

    On this basis, I do hope you can look at giving local communities responsibility for a percentage of the energy we use. My preference would be that this included both conservation and generation elements. Individuals and communities need to face up to the very real problems we are racing towards. I have posted earlier on this. Given a choice between nearby nuclear and rooftop solar, local wind farms, barrages etc. my belief is that people would very soon ignore Osborne’s anti-wind friends in the press.

    We also have thousands of hectares of factory and warehouse roof space. Might solar PV not find a place on these? If only 10% of were suitable for electrical generation, the mega-Wattage would be significant. Surely we could find a way to make this work for both the country and the companies concerned?

    Ed, I think you can see from the many excellent posts and ideas that, on balance, we would like to see greater investment in the myriad of renewable options preferably before but certainly in tandem with any nuclear replacement. Any chance of some good news on that front? Thank you.

  • @Stephen Hesketh
    “My issue is that Osborne appears to keep managing to shift energy policy away from micro, small scale and local renewable approaches towards large-scale non-renewable generation methods.”

    This was always going to be the case. I remember having discussions about micro-generation and local schemes back in the early 2000’s and whilst they have many attractions, one of their major drawbacks is on-going tax revenues. Basically, the government gets a one time tax take at time of purchase, then nothing, whereas with large-scale generation delivered through a controlled grid, the government can very easily tax energy consumption. So Osborne is only acting in the Government’s interests in promoting large-scale generation ie. doing something you would expect any chancellor tasked with raising taxes to do.

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Mar '13 - 2:41pm

    @Roland “So Osborne is only acting in the Government’s interests in promoting large-scale generation ie. doing something you would expect any chancellor tasked with raising taxes to do.”

    Clearly we do not share the same vision of what a Government and one of its key offices of state are in place to do nor what we perceive as being in its interests. With respect to raising taxes, an active renewables and conservation sector will surely create more jobs across the country (not to mention the possibility of exports) than the capital intensive nuclear industry.

    The truth is almost certainly more to do with Tory power politics than what best serves the long-term interests of the British and other peoples.

  • @Stephen Hesketh
    “Given a choice between nearby nuclear and rooftop solar, local wind farms, barrages etc. my belief is that people would very soon ignore Osborne’s anti-wind friends in the press.”

    I would be interested in your reasoning for the last part of this statement.
    Whilst wind (as a source of energy) has value, it certainly isn’t generating electricity for direct input into the mains – something that has been proven beyond reasonable doubt in recent years – hence why it is totally sensible to stop subsidising it. History tells us that wind is a good source of power for processes that create stockpiles and that can be run as and when there is wind.

    “We also have thousands of hectares of factory and warehouse roof space. Might solar PV not find a place on these? ”
    I agree we haven’t yet really begun to explored the assets available to us. Whether PV is an appropriate technology, I’m not sure, particularly given the current (daft in my opinion) requirement that they are directly connected to the mains and not to a battery and hence when the mains power is cut the PV must also be cut off as a safety precaution.

  • @Stephen Hesketh
    “Clearly we do not share the same vision of what a Government and one of its key offices of state are in place to do nor what we perceive as being in its interests.”
    I believe we do share the same vision, only I’ve pointed out that governments over the years seem to have been more interested in raising tax revenues than necessarily acting truly in the national interest. I fully take on your point about the growth potential of the green sector – something I thought in the early 2000’s that the UK was beginning promote – but as you’ve noted this local dimension has been minimised whilst the large-scale and capital intensive side has come to the fore.

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Mar '13 - 3:49pm

    @Roland – Moving ever closer!
    OK “Friends” is probably putting it too high – though I do think they deserve each other! What I really mean is that many on the political right play down long-term environmental issues and promote short-term big business whenever possible. When it comes to the like minded press, they play down the wider environmental needs and benefits and play up peoples fears of the impact on the local environment. They are friends in that the effect is the same … someone else ends up with a nuclear power station, shale gas/oil etc on their doorstep. The NIMBY effect.

    I support wind power (on or off shore, wave, tidal etc) on the basis that it is sustainable and we have plenty of it. That we need to use other sources when the wind drops just requires some of that human ingenuity and flexibility of thought. Gas doesn’t work if you don’t drill a borehole and lay a pipeline to where it is needed! It is though this need for other forms of on/off electricity generation that makes me wonder if thermally-based gas/oil/ organic-based waste matter (rather than just burying it) and crucially combined with carbon capture are a better fit than nuclear. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that!

    With respect to your last post, it appears that we do indeed agree!

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