Comment

24 August 2015

Hinkley C Mothballed – Is it in its Death Throes?

Two very recent articles in Click Green and Professional Engineer indicate that Hinkley Point C is now officially mothballed. Indeed the project seems to be in its death throes.

We already knew that site preparation work at Hinkley Point C was stopped in April 2015, up to 400 construction workers were laid off, and the Final Investment Decision was delayed until the autumn. (1) What wasn’t clear at the time was that NNB Genco – the consortium planning to build the reactors which consists of EDF Energy, China General Nuclear Corp and other investors – put a cap on future spending on the project. (2)

On 1st July the site entered Care and Maintenance which means that activity at the site is limited to the management of material stockpiles and water management zones, remediation of asbestos contaminated land and archaeological surveys. (3)

The budget cap seems to have been greater than the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was expecting. ONR, of course, charges NNB Genco for all the work it carries out to regulate its activities.

ONR says it has taken the decision to suspend the production of future inspection reports until a Final Investment Decision is made. It has also suspended attendance at the local liaison committee – the Cannington Forum. These suspensions are most likely because NNB Genco no longer has the budget to pay for them, so the consortium will have asked ONR to stop visiting the site to do inspections and stop attending the forum because it can’t afford to pay.

In retaliation ONR says it is “monitoring the impact of the budget constraint upon NNB Genco’s competency and capability”. In other words NNB Genco had better watch out or it will lose its status as an organisation competent and capable of holding a nuclear license.

ONR says its inspectors “continue to engage with the programme of design and safety case activities” related to the start of nuclear safety related construction. Its August newsletter said that further submissions are expected in September this year and the Pre Construction Safety Case related to nuclear island construction was ready for ONR to begin initial engagement at the end of July this year. (4)

So while some desk work appears to be continuing all major work on-site appears to have stopped and NNB Genco is so uncertain that the final investment decision will be positive it has asked ONR to stop as much work as possible to save money – even to the point of threatening its own status as a nuclear capable organisation. The Click Green website says:

“Despite recently publishing a list of preferred suppliers for the £24 billion project, the French firm were in behind-the-scenes talks with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), during which they informed them of their decision to mothball the site.”

It looks as though it may be all over for Hinkley Point C bar the shouting.

(1) Gloucestershire Echo 2nd April 2015 http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/400-jobs-lost-Barnwood-based-EDF-stops-site-work/story-26271600-detail/story.html

(2) Click Green 20th Aug 2015 http://www.clickgreen.org.uk/news/national-news/126381-exclusive-edf-mothballs-planned-hinkley-c-nuclear-power-site.html

(3) Professional Engineering 20th Aug 2015 http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2015/08/construction-halted-at-hinkley-point-c-nuclear-project-site.html

(4)   See page 7 ONR Regulation Matters August 2015 http://www.onr.org.uk/documents/2015/regulation-matters-issue-1.pdf

Posted: 24 August 2015

17 August 2015

Cameron’s First 100 Days a Disaster

This article was originally written for the American Nuclear Information and Resource Service Blog Green World.

David Cameron’s Conservative Government has now been in power in the UK, without the constraining influence of the Liberal Democrats, for 100 days. From the point-of-view of the environment his new government has been an unmitigated disaster, marked by a sharp embrace of dirty energy sources in a fashion most advanced nations, even including the U.S., are stepping away from.

From the moment the new Government was elected it set about burning the green policies of the previous coalition government. Subsidies for new onshore wind farms, paid for through consumers’ bills, are to end from April next year as are subsidies for solar farms. There will be a review of the feed-in tariff threatening subsidies for solar panels on domestic and commercial roof tops. And other proposed changed will make it much harder for community renewable projects to obtain finance.

The Government has also killed off the Green Deal scheme which provided loans to households for energy efficiency improvements. The scheme was a damp squib but what’s striking is there are no proposals to replace it. And a decade-long plan to force all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 has been dumped. On top of all this the exemption for renewables from the Climate Change Levy – a kind of carbon tax – has been removed effectively imposing cuts to the income of renewable projects already up and running retrospectively.

The new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd told MPs that carbon reduction targets are a bigger priority than meeting renewable energy targets, signalling that she is prepared to miss the UK’s European Union Renewable Target of meeting 15% of our energy needs (not just electricity) from renewable sources by 2020. Instead she will try to meet the UK’s carbon reduction commitments with nuclear power and fracked gas. She defends her cuts to renewable energy subsidies saying “we need to reduce our emissions in the most cost-effective way”. Cutting support for the very technologies – onshore wind and solar – which can deliver both lower bills and energy security in the long term seems to be a very odd way of going about it.

The problem is that nobody knows yet what measures, if any, the Government plans to implement to replace the measures scrapped. So we have no idea how the Government intends to meet its legally biding obligations under the UK’s Climate Change Act. If it chooses to try meeting its carbon targets without onshore wind, for instance, it must explain why it is taking a more expensive route towards decarbonisation.

Andrea Leadsom, another Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, told MPs that the Government hopes to be able to meet 35% of the UK’s electricity requirements from nuclear by 2028. Initially it is planning subsidies for two new EPR reactors at Hinkley Point C in the West of England which have been independently costed at £76 billion ($121 billion). To get to 35% all 11 of the currently proposed reactors (about 15.2GW) would have to proceed without too many delays and then would have to operate at a rather unlikely 90% capacity factor (the amount the plant generates compared to the amount that would be generated if it was operating at full power all of the time).

Four of the proposed reactors, including the two at Hinkley, are EPRs and we know the only other EPRs being built are all late and probably over-budget. (No reliable cost information has been published for the two in China). Three AP1000 reactors are proposed for Moorside near Sellafield and experience of the United States suggests this reactor type is no better at being built on time and budget. Four Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) are proposed – two for Wylfa on Anglesey and two for Oldbury in Gloucestershire. These are presented as the only reactors which have operational experience. But none of the reactors already built, all of which are in Japan, have a capacity factor above 73% and two have capacity factors of less than 40%.

On top of the initial 15.2GW of nuclear reactors proposed the Government appears to be planning to hand over the a site at Bradwell in Essex, just north of London, to the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation. And the Government is supporting research into Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) with plans being drawn up for the world’s first SMR to be built on land next to the existing Hartlepool (AGR) nuclear power plant in County Durham with perhaps up to 7 GW of SMRs to follow by 2035.

Even that doesn’t complete the picture, because the Government-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) appears to focussing its efforts in dealing with the UK’s embarrassing plutonium stockpile on evaluating two different reactor projects – the GE Hitachi PRISM reactor and the Candu Energy Canmox project with the latter reported in June as the front-runner. Ontario-based Candu Energy is proposing to turn plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) pellets at a dedicated fabrication facility at Sellafield. The MOX fuel could then be used in four thermal reactors to produce up to 3GWe of electricity.

This developing hard energy path for Britain has also seen an announcement this week by Rudd of plans to fast-track shale gas planning applications. The measures are designed to ensure the industry gets up and running without delay, after the industry in the UK has failed to take off in the face of public opposition and opposition from local municipalities. Rudd says we need shale gas to “help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower-carbon emissions”. But UK fracking is likely to need until the mid-2020s to scale up. Government projections are that coal will only generate 1% of our electricity by 2025, and we need to phase-out fossil fuel-based gas “quite rapidly” in the 2030s if we are going to meet our climate commitments. So if the Government is telling the truth about wanting to meet our climate change commitments starting to frack now is pointless.

On the positive side commentators from industry, politics and the financial sector have been lining up to condemn the Government’s plans to subsidise the first new reactors proposed at Hinkley. An investment decision is expected soon – possibly to coincide with a visit by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in October, because China is expected to contribute two thirds of the upfront capital for the project. Words like “white elephant” and “lunacy” are being bandied around in the right wing press. The Chief Executive of the UK subsidiary of German Utility RWE has branded the project an “expensive mistake”. Even the father-in-law of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has called it “one of the worst deals ever for British households and British industry”. Analysts at HSBC Bank say there is “ample reason for the UK government to delay or cancel the project“.

We have to hope this growing chorus of critics calling for Hinkley Point to be scrapped will have an impact, because as many of us know on both sides of the Pond – in the words of UBS Bank “Large-scale power generation … will be the dinosaur of the future energy system: Too big, too inflexible, not even relevant for backup power in the long run.”

Many of the points discussed here are covered in more depth in nuClear News No.76

Posted: 17 August 2015

31 July 2015

Better Active Today than Radioactive Tomorrow

As the Tories slash renewable energy subsidies, plans to provide 35% of UK electricity by 2028 plough on regardless starting with a £76bn subsidy for Hinkley. If the current proposals ever come to fruition we could be looking at another 7GW of Small Modular Reactors at other sites including possibly Hartlepool and Transfynydd and a Chinese reactor at Bradwell, and maybe even 3GW of plutonium burning reactors at Sellafield. Time to Act – Better Active Today than Radioactive Tomorrow. For more on these see our latest issue of UK Nuclear News

No.76 August 2015 is now available for downloading here: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo76.pdf

 

 

Posted: 31 July 2015

13 July 2015

Hinkley Point C Problems Continue to Mount Up

Problems continue to pile up for the Hinkley Point C project, and there is now a growing chorus of critics calling for project to be scrapped altogether, (1) and deep concern in parts of the UK Government, especially the Treasury. (2)

The Daily Telegraph reported on 9th July that French reactor builder, Areva, has been aware since 2006 about the problems, revealed in April, in the steel reactor pressure vessel (RPV) at its Flamanville reactor being built in Normandy. Despite this being a critical safety issue, Areva did not see fit to alert anyone to the problem over the last nine years and has continued with the construction as if nothing were amiss. (3)

Anomalies had been found in the bottom and lid of the RPV of the Flamaville reactor – the same reactor type as the two proposed reactors at Hinkley. This means there are weaknesses in the vital metal structure protecting the outside world from the highly radioactive reactor core. (4) Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety inspectorate (ASN) said the same manufacturing technique was used in the steel for the identical safety casings destined for Hinkley Point, which “have already been manufactured”. (5)

The RPV is the major critical component of the reactor and failure should be incredible. To achieve this, quality control over all aspects of design and construction must be to the highest standards, likewise quality assurance over the whole process from inception to completion, staff, materials, documentation, audit trails etc., must be absolutely perfect. If they can’t get it right for the pressure vessel then it must call in to question Quality Assurance and Quality Control for everything else.

Furthermore if the problem has really been known about for nine years, then as well as the deceit issue, the question is why didn’t the French Regulators pick this up before and why hasn’t it been reported to the French & British government departments? The adequacy of the whole regulatory system needs to be questioned.

The 110-ton spherical steel lid which was destined to sit on top of the Hinkley Point RPV is now going to be sacrificed to test the strength of parts already welded in place at Flamanville and similar projects in China. (6) If further tests prove they aren’t strong enough, the equipment can’t be used, said Pierre-Franck Chevet. (7)

In June another problem was revealed by a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog which highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system. According to the Daily Telegraph “multiple” malfunctioning valves found in the Flamanville EPR would expose the reactor to the risk of a meltdown. (8)

Meanwhile, Austria has filed its legal challenge to the UK’s €108 billion support package for Hinkley Point C. A second such challenge at the European Court is due from green energy suppliers in Germany and Austria who fear unfair competition from subsidised nuclear power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary if the Hinkley C precedent stands. (9)

Based on previous similar cases, the legal objection made by Austria against the European Commission’s decision on Hinkley could delay the progress of the facility for around three to four years according to a legal expert who has been advising the Austrian government on the matter. (10) The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is reported to be discussing with EDF how to handle liability for costs incurred on the project should Austria’s challenge be successful and the deal has to be cancelled. (11)

Stop Hinkley spokesperson, Roy Pumfrey says:

“It is difficult to believe the Government would still want to go-ahead with Hinkley C after such indications of incompetence and secrecy on the part of Areva. Yet DECC is busy removing subsidies from our successful renewables industry to save pennies whilst planning to finance what will probably be the most expensive man-made object ever built in the world. It’s time to call a halt now before anything else goes wrong. Let’s get on with implementing an energy strategy which doesn’t generate dangerous waste and put us all at risk.”

(1) Sunday Times 21st June 2015
(2) FT 14th June 2015
(3) Telegraph 9th July 2015
See also BBC 9th July 2015
(4) Reuters 17th April 2015 and Ecologist 14th April 2015
(5) Independent 18th April 2015
(6) Energy Voice 19th June 2015
(7) Penn Energy 19th June 2015
(8) Telegraph 9th June 2015
(9) Ecologist 6th July 2015
(10) Power Engineering International 9th July 2015
(11) Telegraph 30th June 2015

Posted: 13 July 2015

9 April 2015

Small Reactor Delusion

The Financial Times seems to think that delays at Hinkley Point C will boost the argument for building small modular reactors (SMRs) in Britain.

In reality the nuclear industry is trying to find a silver lining to the cloud which is hanging over it, and using the problems of its own making to squeeze even more funds out of the hard pressed taxpayer. The FT reports that Rolls Royce wants more money for research for instance, and the recent House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee investigation concluded that deployment of SMRs is likely to be achieved through “sharing the costs between the public and private sector”.

There is already a provisionally agreed schedule to allow one SMR design to go through a Generic Design Assessment beginning in 2017. But this could take six years. By 2023 the cost of solar is expected to fall below that of gas, and the cost of offshore wind will have fallen below £100/MWh and will almost certainly be less than nuclear.

The cost per unit of output of SMRs is currently higher than the already expensive conventional, larger reactors. But the industry sees SMRs as a way to reduce costs and speed up construction by using large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. But first someone needs to build a massive supply chain. Money for that would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. The problem is it appears that no one actually wants to buy one.

Rather than getting on with implementing a sensible renewable energy programme and an energy efficiency strategy which can bring an end to the 25,000 excess deaths every winter, the UK Government is still sketching out scenarios for the country with up to 75GW of nuclear capacity in 2050 providing 86% of the UK’s electricity supply. This would require an eye watering 30GW of new capacity to be built between 2030 and 2040 and another 30GW between 2040 and 2050. The Government is already considering what sort of process might be needed to propose new sites for nuclear reactors shows that it is serious about its long-term nuclear strategy.

What is most worrying about these future nuclear scenarios is that the UK Government is failing to develop alternative non-nuclear scenarios to replace them when they turn out to have been a delusion, which they surely will.

More information:

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, the UK’s long-term nuclear strategy and Ireland’s future energy mix debate. NFLA March 2015

http://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/nuclearmonitor/NFLA_New_Nuclear_Monitor_No37.pdf

New Reactor Types are all Nuclear Pie in the Sky, by Jim Green, Ecologist 2nd October 2014

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2577637/new_reactor_types_are_all_nuclear_pie_in_the_sky.html

Posted: 9 April 2015

8 September 2014

Nuclear Investment – what is China’s motivation?

The Colchester Gazette doesn’t publish letters online which is a pity. This one from Professor Barry Jones is particularly interesting.

Dear Sir

News that Chinese state-owned companies remain interested in the possibility of building and operating a new nuclear power station at Bradwell should remind all readers that nuclear power is not a business like any other business and that Chinese state-owned companies are not companies like any other companies.

Nuclear power remains one of the most dangerous forms of power generation. The Fukushima disaster showed that, while nuclear power stations are not potential nuclear bombs, they are potential ‘dirty bombs’ able to distribute lethal doses of nuclear contamination for considerable distances if, and when, they malfunction. Worse, the Stuxnet sabotage of Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities has shown how vulnerable computer-controlled industrial systems are to sabotage or to built-in vulnerabilities. No one in government has given any convincing indication of how a Chinese-built power station could be protected against serious ‘back-doors’ into their computer-based operating and safety systems.

The discussions about possible Chinese involvement at Bradwell also seem to have been undertaken without any explicit concern for the motives of the Chinese state-owned companies and their political masters. China is awash with foreign currency earnings from exports and with orders for new, domestic nuclear power stations. Chinese governments are also looking to the longer-term establishment of regional, if not wider, political dominance. They are also particularly keen to reverse past humiliations, like those inflicted on China during the Opium Wars of the 19th century. The range of motivations for Chinese involvement in any new nuclear at Bradwell – only fifty miles from central London – thus demand greater investigation than has been the case to date. These motivations should certainly not be overlooked in the Government’s rush to secure a substantial share of the future business in offshore Chinese currency and financial arrangements for their friends in the City of London.

R.J. Barry Jones – Emeritus Professor of Politics and International Relations – The University of Reading

Posted: 8 September 2014

18 July 2014

Nuclear is a choice – not a requirement

The number of energy efficiency measures being installed to help homes save energy has collapsed as a result of government policies according to the Association for the Conservation of Energy.(1) Yet an ambitious programme of insulating buildings, and producing more energy directly from buildings themselves could net savings to the economy averaging £12.1bn per year from now until 2050.(2)

The government’s energy efficiency policies are in free fall” says Ed Matthew, director of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, “as a result, fuel poverty is getting worse and people are dying.”(3)

Meanwhile, the crisis in Ukraine has heightened worries about energy security, yet the European Commission seems fixed on an unambitious energy efficiency strategy.(4) If the Commission were to set three targets for 2030: a cut in carbon emission cuts of at least 55% (compared to 1990), a renewable energy share of 45% and a reduction in primary energy consumption of 40% (compared to 2005) overall fossil fuel import requirements could be 45% lower.(5) Attempts to reduce the political impact of Russian gas imports just by diversifying fossil fuel supplies do nothing to increase European economic resilience against volatile global prices.(6)

An energy saving target of 25% by 2030, rather than a more ambitious target of 40% will only cut EU gas imports by 9% per cent but a 40% cut would reduce European gas dependency by an amount equal to current levels of Russian gas imports.(7)

A quite cautious Global Energy Assessment (GEA), produced by an international team led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, notes that the share of renewable energy in global primary energy could increase “to between 30% to 75%, and in some regions exceed 90%, by 2050”. The GEA sees nuclear power “as a choice, not a requirement”.(8)

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) argues that without an energy storage breakthrough, renewables cannot provide the base load power we require.(9) But David Elliott, Emeritus Professor of Technology Policy at the Open University, says given the political will, coupled with serious attention to energy saving, it should be possible to squeeze most fossil fuels out of the system in many places by around 2050, without nuclear.(10)

That still leaves fossil fuels playing a role for some time ahead – but as renewables and energy savings kick in – it will be a diminishing one. Fossil fuel fired plants will be needed for a while for balancing grids as variable renewables expand. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants can use fossil gas more efficiently and, linked to heat stores and district heating networks, can help with grid balancing. Gradually that role can taken over by green gas fired CHP plants, using biogas and gas produced from surplus wind and solar power, when production exceeds demand.

We will also need new energy storage systems and ‘smart grid’ demand side management measures, and the development of a continental-scale supergrid will allow countries to balance their electricity supply and demand, smoothing out local peaks of production and demand. But the basic point is that we can head for a near 100% renewable future should we wish – and along the way we can eliminate fuel poverty and cut Europe’s dependency on Russian gas while we’re at it

(1)     Eco and the Green Deal, June 2014, Energy Bill Revolution & ACE.

(2)     Sustainable Energy Association 7th July 2014

(3)     Guardian 4th July 2014

(4)     Euractiv 30th June 2014

(5)     Energy Desk 24th June 2014

(6)     E3G 24th June 2014

(7)     Energy Desk 18th June 2014

(8)     Ecologist 17th July 2014

(9)    Business Green 22nd Oct 2013

(10) Ecologist 17th July 2014

Posted: 18 July 2014

28 June 2014

A World in Chains

Since Angie Zelter asked me, over a year ago now, to write a chapter about the connection between civil nuclear power and nuclear weapons for her book “World in Chains”, I have become more and more concerned about the likelihood that nuclear weapons will spread to flashpoints around the globe.

Angie is a well-known campaigner on peace, justice environmental and human rights issues, but she is probably most famous for her work against Trident and her role in the world’s first High Court examination of the legality of an individual state’s deployment of nuclear weapons.

My chapter in Angie’s latest anthology argues that, because of the ease with which nuclear materials can be diverted from civil nuclear programmes into military programmes, by spreading nuclear technology in the hope of mitigating the affects of burning fossil fuels on our climate, we will, in fact, be spreading the capability to make nuclear bombs. This runs the risk of provoking multiple mini cold wars around the world. Of around 60 countries who have expressed an interest recently in obtaining nuclear technology, thirteen are in the greater Middle East. Some of these countries appear to be moving down the nuclear path in response to Iran’s pursuit of uranium enrichment raising the prospect of a Sunni/Shia arms race. And of course, since the book went to print, tensions between Sunni and Shia have worsened as the war in Syria spreads across the border into Iraq.

Other recent worrying developments include Japan’s failure to disclose the existence of 640kg of plutonium which has aroused China’s concern; The election of Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP Party in India which might mean that another a major terrorist incident traced back to, or blamed on, Pakistan, could inflame nuclear tensions on the sub continent; and Pakistan has been forced to step up security around nuclear facilities after 10 Taliban militants brought chaos to Karachi airport.

A new report published earlier this month and edited Henry D. Sokolski, the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, reassesses the assumptions currently driving international non-proliferation policies. The book agrees with me that nuclear weapons proliferation is more likely to occur with the spread of civilian nuclear technology and that such nuclear proliferation constitutes a threat to international security. It makes the case that civilian nuclear power programmes actually afford a major leg up for any nation seeking development of a nuclear weapons option.

As one of the contributors, Patrick S Roberts says: “Developing economies demand new energy sources, while North America and Europe are showing a greater resistance to the costs and potential consequences of nuclear power. Therefore, new nuclear reactors will likely be built in regions where the risks of proliferation are the highest.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose role is to enforce the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, has a mixed history of preventing diversion of nuclear materials in a timely manner. Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Libya all engaged in illegal nuclear activities, and it is generally agreed that all embarked on some stage of an illegal nuclear programme. Nevertheless, the IAEA detected violations in only one case, Iraq, and even there, the evidence is mixed.

Pakistan’s Daily Times on 24th June bemoaned the fact that the challenges facing non-proliferation efforts appear insurmountable. There is a desperate need for a comprehensive, universal, enforceable non-proliferation treaty, it said, but the possibility of such a treaty might seem impractical or utopian under present circumstances. But maybe it’s time for the world to think about what is necessary rather than what is practical for a change.

Scotland is in a good position to help such efforts. We have a world leading Climate Change Act; no plans to build new nuclear reactors; a target for producing the equivalent of 100% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Wouldn’t it be great if we could influence the world to work together to tackle the twin threats of climate change and nuclear proliferation beginning with a phase-out of weapons-useable nuclear materials, replacing them instead with sustainable energy to meet the world’s need for energy in a way that promotes peace rather than threatening it.

Pete Roche

World in Chains, edited by Angie Zelter, Luath Press is out now.

Posted: 28 June 2014

20 May 2014

Government attacks renewables; bends over backwards for nuclear

Fresh from creating an energy efficiency shambles, supposedly because of concerns about rising energy bills, the Government has, over the last month, attacked and destabilised the two cheapest and most popular renewables.(1)

First, Energy Minister Michael Fallon announced an effective moratorium on onshore wind if the Tories win the General Election next year. He says we already have enough wind power in the pipeline to meet 2020 EU targets. The Conservative manifesto will pledge to scrap subsidies paid by bill-payers for onshore wind and change the planning system to allow local councils (in England and Wales) to block any which do not already have planning consent.(2) Fallon says any project not granted planning permission before the election would not get funds.(3)

Britain has an obligation under EU law to generate 15% of its energy – not just electricity – from renewables by 2020. To meet this target we need to have a renewable capacity of around 35GW. Of this around 11-13GW is expected to come from onshore wind. Onshore wind capacity is currently about 7.3 gigawatts (GW) — enough to power four million homes. Facilities already under construction or with planning permission will add another 5GW, so we should achieve the target.(4)

But what is Tory’s strategy for decarbonisation post-2020? To meet its climate targets the UK will need to build around another 10GW of onshore wind by 2030. Onshore wind is currently the cheapest renewable option, but the view seems to be that ending subsidies would release cash for more investment in other renewable sources: “This is a mature industry which has had 20 years of subsidy.” The government expects the cost of offshore wind to come down in the 2020s – but not enough to overtake onshore wind. Overall, investing in 10 GW of onshore wind in the 2020s rather than other less-developed clean technologies could save the economy two to three billion pounds, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) predicts. Or to put it another way – failing to invest in 10 GW of onshore wind could cost the country two to three billion pounds in the 2020s.(5)

The anti-wind Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) says there is already enough renewable energy capacity in the pipeline to meet the target of 35GW of capacity by 2020. Almost half (16GW) is operational now. Another 4GW is being built. Although most of the rest of the 15GW required is in the pipeline, at least 10% of consented onshore wind turbines and 20% offshore never get built. And REF seems to assume there is no need to build more renewables once the EU 2020 target has been met, but we will need 64GW by 2030 according to the CCC, and that is with fairly ambitious targets for nuclear and carbon capture and storage.(6)

The Government is also proposing to make drastic reforms to the solar subsidy regime which could kill off solar farm development At the same time the Government says it wants to improve the support regime for rooftop installations and community-owned projects.(7) A Government consultation document (8) proposes to halt Renewables Obligation (RO) subsidies for solar farms larger than 5MW in capacity from April 2015, in line with ministers’ plans to curb the development of new ground-mounted solar farms. DECC said it was concerned that large solar farms would exceed their available budget under the RO, as the industry is deploying at a much faster rate than previously expected. Solar farm projects will still be eligible for support through the new Contract for Difference (CfD) regime, and there would be a “grace period” for solar farms already in the pipeline.

Instead the Government wants to accelerate the development of large scale solar rooftops on supermarkets, offices, warehouses, and public building. But the proposed changes for large-scale rooftops simply promise a slower rate of future reductions to support levels, not the increase which developers argue is needed to jolt the commercial rooftop sector out of the doldrums.(9)

Seb Berry of the Solar Trade Association (STA) says said the “announcement is unnecessary and totally at odds with the government’s desire to reduce the cost to energy bill payers of delivering the 2020 renewable energy target. Following close behind recent unhelpful media coverage of onshore wind policy, this policy proposal will undermine investor confidence in the entire UK renewable energy sector, by removing at a stroke the short and medium-term policy certainty required for major project investments. It is very surprising that such a deeply damaging policy proposal has been cleared by the Treasury.”(10)

Leonie Green at the STA says DECC officials have effectively said that solar is the easiest target for balancing their overspent Levy Control Framework (LCF) books. The solar industry is being treated as some sort of pop-up side-show for balancing the LCF books, while other technologies enjoy at least a level of stability. The government is bending over backwards to provide stability to the French nuclear industry. It eulogises about opening up your local park and the strata beneath your home to the American fracking industry. No wonder the British solar industry is incredulous.(11)

Posted: 20 May 2014

23 April 2014

Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) a dismal failure

The Government has launched a consultation to seek responses to an application submitted by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) for a regulatory justification decision in relation to the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR). The consultation runs until 13th May 2014.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has published a briefing which provides an overview and model response to the consultation. It is available here.

Chair of the UK and Ireland NFLA, Councillor Mark Hackett, writing in The Ecologist, says the design is a dismal failure in Japan, costs more than alternatives, and brings serious health hazards.

Posted: 23 April 2014