Ed Davey: Non-nuclear energy approach is “negligent” and “risky” #slfconf

Ed Davey - photo by Paul WalterOn Monday, I summarised the appearances of Ed Davey at last weekend’s Social Liberal Forum conference in London. Here, I outline some of the views expressed and initiatives described by Ed on the day, including during a bloggers’ interview:

Using less energy

Fuel poverty is a serious issue. Energy inefficient building stock is a key cause.

The Green deal, Ed said, had not originally gone as well as it had been hoped. In Phase 1, there were just 250,000 assessments. Phase 2 is going better, and is on track to improve two million homes.

This year will see the first ever pilot of the Electricity Demand Reduction incentive, rewarding companies who invest in energy reduction, for example, in large factories. There is the Community Energy Strategy with a new approach to district heating networks and the encouragement of community energy reduction schemes.

International action

Ed is very much looking forward to the Paris 2015 Climate conference, which he sees as extremely significant. He is very proud of the proposed EU 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and the work of the “Green growth group” of 14 EU country ministers.

Measuring fuel poverty

The old model used for measuring fuel poverty was inaccurate. Even the Queen was fuel poor under it. The measurement has now been improved and there is new policy thinking on fuel poverty, particularly focussing on rural poverty.

2015 manifesto

Ed is forming thoughts for the Energy section of the 2015 manifesto. His thoughts revolve around “Five green laws for a green liberal Britain” covering these areas:

Nature
Waste
Energy efficiency and renewable heat
Transport
Raising climate ambitions

Pressed by Matthew Hulbert, Ed said that we will need to emphasise our green credentials at the next election, focussing on 2 or 3 things which we have achieved and 2 or 3 things which we want to do. He reckons that renewables “really resonate with the public” whereas “the public do not really understand what ‘green jobs’ are”.

Working with the Conservatives

Given the stories circulating, I imagined the DECC Tory ministers being at daggers’ drawn with Ed. So, I asked him how things work in the department. He replied that “the Secretary of State makes the final decisions”. He says that he and Greg Barker certainly saw eye to eye and that he has a very convivial working relationship with Baroness Verma. Obviously, it was too early to make comment on Amber Rudd or Matthew Hancock, the two new ministers. Ed noted that it was well known that he didn’t see eye to eye with John Hayes and I notice that
Michael Fallon was left hovering in “no man’s land”.

Ed mentioned that the main tension he experiences is with the Treasury and Eric Pickles. He particularly called out the practice of Mr Pickles calling in onshore wind schemes which local councils have already approved. He described such a practice as being alien to the idea of local democracy.

Ed added that the Tories have an ideological approach that all regulation is inherently bad.

Events down under

Matthew Hulbert asked Ed about the recent Australian government to end its pollution levy. Ed said this was “Extremely disappointing…but they have a democratic mandate (to do this)”.

Green growth

“Growth is green” said Ed, adding that most of British business does not get the credit it deserves for green action. He mentioned that “Insurers know what is happening to the climate….High capitalists are realising that they have to take climate change seriously”.

Countering the Green party

Caron Lindsay asked about countering the threat of the Green Party at next the election. Ed immediately answered “By telling everyone about our fantastic record..19.4% renewable generation of electricity…”. He said that our record is not perfect but it is fantastic where we have had influence.

Products standards

For some strange reason, Labour put product standards under Defra. Through some quiet behind-the-scenes work, Ed got this responsibility put under the banner of DECC. Appliance standards have now improved dramatically. When compared to 2000 standards, the average new appliance is saving £200 per year due to better energy efficiency.

The nudge theory is being used, allowing people to act with better knowledge. A trial is being worked with John Lewis on white goods to show, alongside the sticker price, the lifetime running costs in “pounds, shillings and pence”, as Ed put it. This, he claimed, would encourage more switching to more efficient models without laws or regulations. The same approach could be applied to cars. He was quite excited about the idea.

Nuclear power

Jonathan Calder asked about the promise which the Liberal Democrats made not to subsidise nuclear power generation. Ed said that what we actually promised, through Chris Huhne, were “no special favours” for the nuclear industry. Ed talked about the economic rationale for Hinkley Point C, which will start producing energy in 2023. He said that the pessimistic estimates about its viability do not usually take account of the likely increase in the “price of carbon”, which will rise gradually. He said that it is wrong to compare nuclear energy with the wholesale price now. It needs to be compared with the wholesale price plus the likely carbon price increase by 2023.

He said he had changed his view on nuclear power because of the “real and present danger” of climate change, adding that you cannot move from a fossil fuel economy to a non-fossil fuel economy overnight.

He described the non-nuclear approach to energy generation as “negligent” and “risky”, adding that his main concern regarding nuclear power is the price, not safety or waste disposal.

He said that if you compare the Hinkley C prices which the government has negotiated compared to future prices, including the carbon uplift, then “I think its is a good deal”.

Climate change deniers

Ed said “Beware of people talking as if they know the future”, adding: “Whatever comes out of the energy markets has to be low carbon”.
I asked about the recent BBC Trust judgment encouraging the corporation not to give undue airtime to climate change deniers. He answered that the debate should be based on facts and interests should be declared. “Would we tolerate daily interviews with creationists?” – he asked. He mentioned a recent report by 285 scientists, the “most peer-reviewed piece of science in human history”. He mentioned that “we are winning the argument”.

Optimistic future

Ed said: “I am optimistic about the world’s ability to deal with climate change”, quoting three reasons: Washington, Beijing and Europe.

Ed reckons that Washington is at last taking climate change seriously. The latest coal power regulations announced by Gina McCarthy are “really quite dramatic”. With the latest energy efficiency ratings the US is “really moving”. From seeing what John Podesta, Obama’s new climate change adviser, is doing, Ed has concluded that “these guys are serious”.

China is really moving too. The People’s Congress is developing an ecological civilisation. They have realised that social unrest in China is linked to the environment. “If you only have one child and the rivers are toxic” you tend to be angry. The Chinese Communist party is behaving responsibly and it is all being done because of pollution and the fact that their eastern cities are greatly exposed to rising sea levels. China are investing in renewables and nuclear more than any other country. By coincidence, Ed was travelling to China the next day to meet their energy minister. He said that “they genuinely want to move” forward.

In Europe, he is very optimistic that the 40% renewable target will get through, and this may well, in turn, positively influence China and the USA.

Ed also mentioned good signs from India, where their new Prime Minister Modi has written about fighting climate change and previously took positive measures when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Miliband price freeze

This will reduce competition, reduce investments and bring higher prices in the end. He is convinced that the Tories will also offer some sort of election giveaway.

Ed said that he is working an idea, saying that we need something to say which is green and will help people with their bills.

Scotland

The increase in Scottish renewables has happened under the union. We are already doing very well. Is Scotland really going to be able to do any better? – asked Ed. The impact of support for renewables is currently smoothed over 20 million households. Under an independent Scotland it would be smoothed over 2 million households.

Ed said that Salmond gets away with very poor arguments because no-one challenges him. Salmond needs to be challenged. He added that we can’t just argue on the empirics and the rational. We have got to argue on the emotional. “We’re a family. I will be heartbroken if Scotland leave the union”, he said.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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26 Comments

  • “He said he had changed his view on nuclear power because of the “real and present danger” of climate change, adding that you cannot move from a fossil fuel economy to a non-fossil fuel economy overnight.
    He described the non-nuclear approach to energy generation as “negligent” and “risky”, adding that his main concern regarding nuclear power is the price, not safety or waste disposal.”

    Has he only heard about climate change recently, then? Or has he only recently realised you can’t make that move overnight? Did he give any hint of an apology for trying to persuade us all to adopt a negligent and risky approach before?

    I never cease to be amazed by the casual way in which politicians discard the policies they espoused so earnestly and so recently. It makes me wonder how long it will take them to discard the ones they are espousing so earnestly now.

  • Thanks Geoffrey. And it’s a triple “no” to your questions, I think Chris.

  • George Carpenter 23rd Jul '14 - 12:22pm

    “You can’t move from a fossil fuel to a non-fossil fuel economy overnight”.
    That is correct, but the statement seems to make the assumption that nuclear power stations can be built quickly and cheaply. They emphatically cannot be built quickly and cheaply.
    Nuclear takes the longest to build, is the most uneconomic, requires the most Government subsidy (see: liberal) and is not carbon neutral in terms of extraction and purification.
    Hinckly Point C is not expected to be operational until 2020 at the latest, by which time PVC will be profitable without subsidy, nuclear power is simply not a rational argument.

    Support for Trident and Nuclear Power is just another tuition fees and is exactly why the party is bleeding votes to the Greens.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Jul '14 - 1:02pm

    @Joe Otten “Do you have an opinion on nuclear power, or are you just against responding to the evidence?”
    The Lib Dem manifesto in 2010 stated:
    “Liberal Democrats will … Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations; based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.”
    To what new evidence is Ed Davey responding now that supersedes the evidence upon which the party’s previous position was claimed to be based? Did we vote for a policy which was “negligent” and “risky”?

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Jul '14 - 6:48pm

    “He described the non-nuclear approach to energy generation as “negligent” and “risky””

    So he is simply doing the classical politicians thing of dumping the even higher risks (lower probability, greater severity) onto future generations, while presiding over the pathetic Green Deal and ECO.

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd Jul '14 - 7:12pm

    “Jonathan Calder asked about the promise which the Liberal Democrats made not to subsidise nuclear power generation. Ed said that what we actually promised, through Chris Huhne, were “no special favours” for the nuclear industry. ”

    Strange that so many of us thought Lib Dem policy was not to subsidise new nuclear when all along it was “no special favours”. And we wonder why non-committed voters don’t feel they can trust us and politicians generally. Very sad state of affairs.

  • Joe Otten has publicly asked me a question, and has implied I don’t wish to respond.

    So I’ll ask him again, what is this new evidence that he refers to, which has caused the Lib Dems to reverse completely their opposition to nuclear power since 2010?

  • Ask Davey about the insanity of Drax.

  • peter tyzack 24th Jul '14 - 9:26am

    David, absolutely right.. I thought the idea was that houses would adopt the same energy rating marketing tool as white goods.
    It works to the point that ‘the nudge theory is being used, allowing people to act with better knowledge. A trial is being worked with John Lewis on white goods to show, alongside the sticker price, the lifetime running costs in “pounds, shillings and pence(?)”, this, would encourage switching to efficient models without laws or regulations. The same approach could be applied to cars. He was quite excited about the idea.’ – If it works then it works, and experience shows that it IS an excellent selling point to show potential house-buyers the annual energy consumption statement.

  • peter tyzack 24th Jul '14 - 9:34am

    we already have police helicopters with heat sensor cameras, linked by computer to address data. Albeit they are looking for cannabis farms in lofts etc, but the data is already being collected. Simply require the data of hot roofs which are not drugs related to be referred to a home energy team, administered locally, to go round and install free loft insulation. Then give notice, pass legislation, that as at 2020 it will become illegal to waste heat by lack of insulation, and any such property will be treated as substandard and therefore un-mortgageable .

  • SIMON BANKS 24th Jul '14 - 9:21pm

    I think calling the no-new-nuclear option “negligent” is excessive. I went in to the debate last year in Glasgow ready to vote for a limited new nuclear option and was persuaded by the debate to vote the other way. The debate was searching and well-informed. And I can’t recall the exact words, but I have a distinct memory that Ed Davey himself in the debate promised something tougher than “no special favours”. Perhaps the precise words are recorded?

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Jul '14 - 10:34pm

    In a similar vein to Peter Tyzack, I have posted to Ed Davey several times during his incumbency to ask about the practice of almost every High Street shop leaving their doors open even on the coldest days in winter, not only wantonly wasting energy but also almost certainly subjecting their staff to illegal working conditions.

    @ Chris 24th Jul ’14 – 8:34am I’m with you on this Chris. I believe ‘No special favours’ will become another of those 2010-15 Lib Dem defining phrases we will have to live with for years. Smoke and mirrors is amongst the more usable phrases which springs to mind. Self censorship is called for I’m afraid 🙁

  • Well, it would still be interesting if Joe Otten could explain what “evidence” he was accusing me of failing to respond to before.

  • Joe Otten

    I think it is you who needs to produce ‘evidence’ based on the discussion above

    There has been a volte-face in policy so something must have caused it. The pro-nuclear lobby, which now includes the LD, have to explain why it is the best option when the rest of the developed world seem to b shying away from nuclear

    What is Lib Dem policy on energy now?

  • Joe

    What I am asking is what new evidence has caused the change in policy since 2010.

  • Several commentators calling for evidence. Perhaps the following, well researched and meticulously referenced might help —

    Hinkley C —  some of the reasons it was a bad move by Ed Davey

    George Monbiot –  October 2013 –  originally published in The Guardian

    Seven years ago, I collected all the available cost estimates for nuclear power. The US Nuclear Energy Institute suggested a penny a kilowatt hour(1). The Royal Academy of Engineering confidently predicted 2.3p(2). The British government announced that in 2020 the price would be between 3 and 4p(3). The New Economics Foundation guessed that it could be anywhere between 3.4 and 8.3p(4). 8.3 pence was so far beyond what anyone else forecast that I treated it as scarcely credible. It falls a penny short of the price now agreed by the British government(5).

    I still support nuclear power. I believe that to abandon our primary source of low carbon energy during a climate change crisis would be madness. It would mean replacing atomic plants with something much worse.

    We should, of course, cut our profligate demand for power as much as possible. But if transport and heating are to be powered by low-carbon electricity, total demand is likely to rise even with the most parsimonious use of energy(6).

    And we should make as much use as we can of renewables. But the biggest onshore wind schemes could supply only a fraction of the low carbon power a nuclear plant can produce. For example, the controversial deployment in mid-Wales would generate just one 14th of the proposed output of Hinkley C(7). Offshore wind has greater potential, but using it to displace most of our fossil fuel generation is a tough call, even when it’s balanced with a nuclear power baseload. Without that you would explore the limits of feasibility. If every square metre of roof and suitable wall in the UK were covered with solar panels, they would produce 9% of the energy currently provided by fossil fuels(8).

    The harsh reality is that less nuclear means more gas and coal. Coal burning produces, among other toxic emissions, heavy metals, acid sulphates and particulates, which cause a wide range of heart and lung diseases. Even before you take the impacts of climate change into account, coal is likely to kill more people every week than the Chernobyl disaster has killed since 1986(9). It astonishes me to see people fretting about continuing leaks at Fukushima, which present a tiny health risk even to the Japanese(10), while ignoring the carcinogenic pollutants being sprayed across our own country.

    But none of this means that we should accept nuclear power at any cost. And at Hinkley Point the cost is too high.

    Nils Pratley warned in the Guardian last week that “if Hinkley Point’s entire output is tied to the rate of inflation for 40 years, we could be staring at a truly astronomical cost by the end of the contract.”(11) The City analyst he consulted reassured him that “the government surely can’t be that dumb”. Oh yes? Payment to the operators, the government now tells us, will be “fully indexed to the Consumer Price Index.”(12) Guaranteed income for corporations, risk assumed by the taxpayer: this deal looks as bad as any private finance initiative contract(13).

    That’s not the only respect in which the price is too high. A fundamental principle of all development is that we should know how the story ends. In this case no one has the faintest idea. Cumbria – the only local authority which seemed prepared to accept a dump for the nuclear waste from past and future schemes – rejected the proposal in January(14). No one should commission a mess without a plan for clearing it up.

    But this above all is a wasted opportunity. By the time a European pressurised reactor at Hinkley Point is halfway through its operating life, it will look about as hip as a traction engine.

    I understand that, with a project this big and timeframes this long, the government needs to pick a technology, but you would expect it to try to pick a winner. The clunky third-generation power station chosen for Hinkley C already looks outdated, beside the promise of integral fast reactors and liquid fluoride thorium reactors. While other power stations are consuming nuclear waste, Hinkley will be producing it.

    An estimate endorsed by the chief scientific adviser at the government’s energy department suggests that, if integral fast reactors were deployed, the UK’s stockpile of nuclear waste could be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to meet all UK demand for 500 years(15). These reactors would keep recycling the waste until hardly any remained: solving three huge problems – energy supply, nuclear waste and climate change – at once(16). Thorium reactors use an element that’s already extracted in large quantities as an unwanted by-product of other mining industries. They recycle their own waste, leaving almost nothing behind(17).

    To build a plant at Hinkley Point which will still require uranium mining and still produce nuclear waste in 2063 is to commit to 20th-Century technologies through most of the 21st. In 2011 GE Hitachi offered to build a fast reactor to start generating electricity from waste plutonium and (unlike the Hinkley developers) to carry the cost if the project failed(18). I phoned the government on Monday morning to ask what happened to this proposal. I’m still waiting for an answer.

    That global race the prime minister keeps talking about? He plainly intends to lose.

    First published in the Guardian. Courtesy: www.monbiot.com

    References:

    1. Nuclear Energy Institute, 3rd September 2003. Nuclear Power Plants Maintain Lowest Production Cost for Baseload Electricity. http://www.nei.org/News-Media/Media-Room/News-Releases/Nuclear-Power-Plants-Maintain-Lowest-Production-Co

    2. PB Power, March 2004. The Cost of Generating Electricity, page 13. The Royal Academy of Engineering, London. http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/cost_of_generating_electricity.pdf

    3. Performance and Innovation Unit, No 10 Downing Street, February 2002. The Energy Review, Annex 6. http://tna.europarchive.org/20080527124022/http:/www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/strategy/work_areas/~/media/assets/www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/strategy/theenergyreview%20pdf.ashx

    4. New Economics Foundation, 29th June 2005. Mirage and oasis: energy choices in an age of global warming. http://www.ecocivilization.info/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/nefmirageoasis.pdf

    5. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/initial-agreement-reached-on-new-nuclear-power-station-at-hinkley

    6. http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/

    7. The mid-Wales deployment, if fully realised, would have an installed capacity of 800MW, and a capacity factor of 26%. Hinkley C is a 3.2GW project, with a capacity factor of approximately 90%.

    8. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/jan/13/green-deal

    9. http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html#more

    10. http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/pub_meet/fukushima_risk_assessment_2013/en/index.html

    11. http://www.theguardian.com/business/blog/2013/oct/18/hinkley-point-nuclear-power-plant-consumer-bills

    12. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/initial-agreement-reached-on-new-nuclear-power-station-at-hinkley

    13. http://www.monbiot.com/category/privatisation/

    14. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jan/30/cumbria-rejects-underground-nuclear-storage

    15. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/feb/02/nuclear-reactors-consume-radioactive-waste

    16. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/sellafield-nuclear-energy-solution

    17. http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/201101/hargraves.cfm

    18. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/sellafield-nuclear-energy-solution

  • From George Monbiot —

    But none of this means that we should accept nuclear power at any cost. And at Hinkley Point the cost is too high.

    Nils Pratley warned in the Guardian last week that “if Hinkley Point’s entire output is tied to the rate of inflation for 40 years, we could be staring at a truly astronomical cost by the end of the contract.”

    The City analyst he consulted reassured him that “the government surely can’t be that dumb”. Oh yes? Payment to the operators, the government now tells us, will be “fully indexed to the Consumer Price Index.” Guaranteed income for corporations, risk assumed by the taxpayer: this deal looks as bad as any private finance initiative contract.

    That’s not the only respect in which the price is too high. A fundamental principle of all development is that we should know how the story ends. In this case no one has the faintest idea. Cumbria – the only local authority which seemed prepared to accept a dump for the nuclear waste from past and future schemes – rejected the proposal in January.

    No one should commission a mess without a plan for clearing it up.

    But this above all is a wasted opportunity. By the time a European pressurised reactor at Hinkley Point is halfway through its operating life, it will look about as hip as a traction engine.
    …………

    To build a plant at Hinkley Point which will still require uranium mining and still produce nuclear waste in 2063 is to commit to 20th-Century technologies through most of the 21st. In 2011 GE Hitachi offered to build a fast reactor to start generating electricity from waste plutonium and (unlike the Hinkley developers) to carry the cost if the project failed).

    I phoned the governmenton Monday morning to ask what happened to this proposal. I’m still waiting for an answer.

  • John

    Thanks for those interesting comments, But what I was asking is whether there was really any significant new evidence which emerged after 2010, which could credibly be presented as a justification for a dramatic change of policy on nuclear power by people who were previously against it.

  • Chris

    I think the simple answer is no. My assumption is that Ed Davey simply buckled under the power of the nuclear lobby and Tory enthusiasts for out-dated nuclear dinosaurs.

    But there was nothing new on climate change to justify such a dramatic shift of direction.

  • Emergence of evidence does not have to be sudden and dramatic. Often it is cumulative and progressive. Many opponents of nuclear power put great faith in a possibility that carbon dioxide might be sequestered and permanently stored somewhere; as time goes by this looks more and more like a pipe dream. Reliance on non renewable gas was always dodgy, but hopes that Russia, as a principle supplier, might become progressively less of a threat to the rest of Europe have receded.

    I understand why a change of heart will greatly disappoint those who are much opposed to all things nuclear. As someone who has always felt that a mixed approach is the most pragmatic and sustainable, I welcome a Lib Dem policy change.

    I suppose if Chris is asking what has changed since 2010, the obvious answer is the realities of experience in government. Altough the risks were always there the reality of these risks may not have been so well appreciated; Ed Davey has referred to the risks, is that not enough?

  • John Tilley: the “nothing new” includes a lack of progress in carbon dioxide sequestration.

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