News June 2013

Hinkley Pointless

Negotiations over the guaranteed price EDF hopes to receive for electricity from its planned new reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset don’t seem to have made much progress over the last three months. The press continues to report contradictory information, but Energy Minister Michael Fallon says the Government and EDF still disagree on “five or six” issues. He insists the French company does not have the Government over a barrel, because Hitachi has started the four or five year process of getting its reactor design approved for construction at Wylfa on Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.

Dr Tim Fox, head of energy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, has declared that Hinkley C might never be built. Even if EDF manages to agree a “strike price” with the government there is no guarantee it will be able to attract the investment it needs to start construction, or get approval for the subsidies from the European Commission.

The Energy Bill, which will implement Electricity Market Reform has now received its final reading in the House of Commons and will go on to the House of Lords. Caroline Lucas MP put forward amendments to the Bill which sought to simply return us to the coalition agreement position that new nuclear should receive no public subsidy. It has been shocking how Ministers, especially Liberal Democrats, have ditched this commitment so shamelessly.

Lucas says if the Government was serious about tackling fuel poverty it would not sign up to a 35 or 40-year contract which involved paying twice the current market price for electricity. The Association for the Conservation of Energy argues that new reactors could cost up to £1 trillion more than necessary over the contract period.

Everyone is agreed that energy prices are certain to go up, but the Government hopes to limit price rises to £64 per year, but that depends on people buying new efficient white goods and taking out Green Deal loans. Instead the number of cavity walls being insulated has collapsed by 97% and so far fewer than 200 households have taken out Green Deal loans according to Radio 4’s You and Yours.

As former Labour MP, Alan Simpson, points out: “…hundreds of thousands of the fuel poor will die in this decade ….This is not a programme, it’s a road crash.”

12th June 2013

Posted: 12 June 2013

12 June 2013

Politics

Sir Robert Smith has been appointed as temporary chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, after Tim Yeo stepped down pending an investigation into allegations he breached parliamentary rules by advising a subsidiary of one of the companies that employs him. The Lib Dem deputy chair of the committee was unanimously selected to act as interim chair of the committee as Yeo fights to clear his name.

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Posted: 12 June 2013

11 June 2013

Sellafield

Details are only just emerging of an event at the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) on the 14th May this year when a holding tank was inexplicably filled with the wrong substance –formaldehyde instead of hydroxylamine. Both are used in the operation to reprocess spent reactor fuel but at wholly different stages of the process and for completely different outcomes. Had this major human error not been detected in time, as we are lead to believe, the consequences of introducing formaldehyde into the first stages of fuel dissolution could have been catastrophic for the THORP’s internal workings. THORP is now in its 20th year of operation and, some 8 years behind schedule, is reduced to reprocessing just a quarter of the volume of spent fuel it was originally designed for. The plant has been scheduled to enter an 8-week ‘outage’ in June/July this year.

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Posted: 11 June 2013

10 June 2013

Nuclear Subsidy

ENERGY subsidies have a long history. Governments often argue they are necessary to promote new energies during early developmental stages—think of NASA’s funding for photovoltaics. In America, support like this goes back all the way to land grants for timber extraction in the 1800s. There have been tariffs to support coal, preferential tax treatment for oil and gas, loan guarantees for nuclear power, and so on. Yet nowadays renewable energy is singled out for the support it receives from the government. Critics focus on 2011, when two-thirds of the $24 billion in energy-related subsidies went to renewable energy and energy efficiency ($6 billion was spent on ethanol), while a mere $2.5 billion was spent on fossil fuels. But this ignores history. One study by a venture-capital group that does green investing suggests that in inflation-adjusted dollars government spending on the nuclear industry averaged $3.3 billion a year over the first 15 years of the subsidies. The equivalent figures are $1.8 billion for oil and gas, and $400m for renewable energy during the first 15 years of their respective subsidies.

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Posted: 10 June 2013

9 June 2013

Sellafield

A controversial nuclear fuel plant that was closed down two years ago left taxpayers with a £2.2bn bill instead of turning a healthy profit, an government report has admitted. An internal report revealing the full extent of the failure of the SellafieldMixed-Oxide (MOX) plant concluded that the facility was “not fit for purpose” and its performance over a decade was “very poor”. The report is embarrassing for the Government which is proposing to build a new MOX plant at Sellafield to deal with Britain’s civil plutonium stockpile – the biggest in the world. Campaigners and MPs claimed yesterday that the report’s account of the events at Sellafield fatally undermined the case for any further attempts to profit from the MOX process, which uses reprocessed plutonium to make fuel for civil nuclear power plants.

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Posted: 9 June 2013

8 June 2013

Hinkley

The claim against the decision to grant consent for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, made by the Irish equivalent of the National Trust, An Taisce (‘an tashka’) is essentially on a single ground: that the government should have consulted the Irish people (i.e. its government) before the application was made, because the project is ‘likely to have significant effects’ on the environment in Ireland. Our government decided it wouldn’t and so didn’t consult Ireland or any other country. Unlike the rest of pre-application consultation, transboundary consultation is a duty on the government rather than the developer. It does consult other countries in some cases – see this blog post for example. Greenpeace have launched JR proceedings against the same decision, and although their claim is divided into seven grounds, again there is really only a single allegation: that the withdrawal of Cumbria County Council (CCC) on 30 January this year from the development of a long-term nuclear waste disposal facility in west Cumbria means that it is not currently possible to grant consent for a new nuclear power station according to government policy. Greenpeace rely on what they call ‘the Policy Test’, which comes from a government white paper from 2008, ‘Meeting the Energy Challenge – a White Paper on Nuclear Power’, and is as follows: ‘Our policy is that before development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, the Government will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste they will produce.’

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Posted: 8 June 2013

7 June 2013

Nuclear Subsidy

Ministers and EDF still disagree on “five or six” issues over the building of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation, Michael Fallon has said, insisting the French company does not have the Government “over a barrel”. Talks over subsidies for the £14bn Hinkley Point project in Somerset were originally due to be concluded at the end of last year. But despite suggestions in recent weeks that the two sides were nearing agreement, energy minister Mr Fallon revealed: “We are still apart on five or six issues.” The comment, in an interview with The House magazine, will cast renewed doubt on the project, which requires not only agreement with the government but also EU state aid approval and for EDF to secure financial partners. In the magazine interview Mr Fallon rejected suggestions that the need for new nuclear plants left ministers in a weak negotiating position, citing plans by Japan’s Hitachi to build reactors in Gloucestershire and on Anglesey through the Horizon venture. “We are not over a barrel,” he said. “We have Hitachi ready to come in… So we are not wholly dependent on Hinkley. We would like to do the deal with EDF but we are not going to do it at any price.

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Posted: 7 June 2013

6 June 2013

Energy Costs

Robert Kennedy Jr: Fossil fuels wouldn’t last one day in a free market. “If everybody had to pay the true cost of bringing their product to market, wind and solar would demolish the incumbents” To build solar is about $3bn a GW – to build a nuke it’s about $15bn a GW. Why would you ever build it? People say ‘well, y’know, we can do this with nuke, it’s a proven technology’. Well, you can make energy burning prime rib if you want, but why not make energy from the cheapest thing around, which is wind and solar. It’s much cheaper. If everybody had to pay the true cost of bringing their product to market, wind and solar would demolish the incumbents. They wouldn’t survive one day in the marketplace.

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Posted: 6 June 2013

5 June 2013

Energy Bill

A bid to include a target to decarbonise the UK’s electricity generation by 2030 was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, to the dismay of green campaigners and businesses that had backed the goal as a way of stimulating investment in renewables and low-carbon energy. Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth,said “The Liberal Democrat leadership’s green credibility has been left in tatters after siding with the Conservatives to back a headlong dash for gas – this would send fuel bills rocketing and jobs overseas, and punch a gaping hole in our climate targets. With significant numbers of MPs defying the party whip to join the opposition by voting for clean power, this issue will not go away.” Investment in the UK’s renewable energy has fallen to a seven-year low, according to recent research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, as investors have been spooked by the contradictory messages coming from government. Many on the right of the Conservative party have become more vociferous in their opposition to alternative energy, and more outspoken in voicing doubts over climate change science.

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Posted: 5 June 2013

4 June 2013

Nuclear Subsidy

Three years ago, when the Conservatives and Lib.Dems cobbled together their policy programme for Government, called the “Coalition Agreement, they agreed on this paragraph: “Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new national planning statement) and provided also that they receive no public subsidy.” Extraordinarily, both parties have performed U-turns in government: with Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey now a cheerleader for new nuclear in the UK, and nuclear exports abroad. His Conservative energy minister, Michael Fallon, is now twisting and turning to redefine the word “subsidy” in such a contorted way to accommodate the demands of EDF as the fixed future price for nuclear electricity is agreed at double the current value (in secret), he is like Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass, where words mean whatever he wants them to mean whenever he wants them to!

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Posted: 4 June 2013