In this month’s nuClear News we learn that the Government is awaiting the outcome of a feasibility study on the construction of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK, despite their failure to breathe new life into the moribund US nuclear renaissance. And Iberdrola has started working with GE Hitachi (GEH) to get two plutonium-fuelled PRISM fast reactors built at Sellafield, despite the history of failure of sodium-cooled reactors. At the same time the Office for Nuclear Regulation is allowing EDF Energy to gamble with public safety as the graphite blocks in the core of its AGRs continue to lose weight and threaten to crack and disrupt the insertion of control rods in an emergency.
The European Commission has given the go-ahead to the UK’s Capacity Market scheme, described by Professor of Energy Policy Catherine Mitchell as yet another example of poor energy policy decision-making which suits the interests of companies who are the losers in the move to a sustainable future with consumers paying an unnecessary subsidy driving prices up. The Green Alliance says peak load could be reduced by 6.4GW – equivalent to Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, and we could draw on experience from the US and introduce a capacity market that promotes energy saving.
The Commission has also given the go-ahead to the non-nuclear Contracts for Difference (CfDs) scheme, which is meant to introduce competition into the low carbon electricity market. But early allocations have eaten up 58% of the total budget for renewables support. Only £50m per year will be available for onshore wind and solar until 2020 with £155 million for less mature renewables including offshore wind. Leonie Green of the Solar Trade Association points out that the £200m/yr ceiling placed on subsidies to renewable energy from this autumn is dwarfed by the £80bn guaranteed to the nuclear industry.
Meanwhile the Renewables Obligation for large-scale solar is being closed from April 2015. It was meant to run until 2017 when CfDs would take over. At the moment solar above 5MW receives 1.4ROCs. This was due to be reduced to 1.3ROCs in 2015 and 1.2ROCs in 2016. Ministers argue they can’t “afford” to continue this until 2017. They claim it would “undermine” the budget for other technologies. But the saving is only expected to be £70m per year or 1.4% of the total Levy Control Framework (LCF) budget. That’s a saving per household per year of 75 pence. Seb Berry of Solar Century says “what might have been a wholly positive process around reducing large-scale solar support under the RO by cuts to the band rate in 2015 and 2016, delivered in a measured and predictable way, as expected by investors, has been set aside in favour of shock treatment and shock closure.”
The £155m budget available for less mature renewables will only be sufficient to fund one offshore wind project this year, throwing plans for many offshore farms into doubt. Yet there are five offshore wind farms with planning consent that are likely to want to secure a contract, plus a further six projects which are still in the planning system. One of the projects with consent is Scottish Power’s East Anglia proposal, which has capacity of 1.2GW – too big to secure full funding for the entire project this year. The budget also represents a cut of around 50% in the amount of onshore wind which will be installed. Since 2010 the installation rate has been around 1GW. But with only £50 million per year of extra money allocated for so-called ‘mature’ technologies such as onshore wind and solar farms, there will only be enough money for around 500 MW of onshore wind to be deployed each year until 2020 – a total of around 2500 MW, less than half the 7000 MW of consented onshore windfarms (and none of the many proposed solar farms) can be deployed.
Meanwhile the Government has closed its Green Deal Cashback scheme and the European Commission has agreed to a disappointingly unambitious 30% energy efficiency target for 2030. A 40% target for 2030 would bring greater environmental and economic benefits. A 30% target will only reduce gas imports by 22% whereas a 40% target would cut imports by 40% – the equivalent of total current Russian gas imports. And in the UK proposals to lift fuel poor homes to an Energy Performance Certificate rating of at least C by 2030 have been heavily criticised: 2030 is too far away and there are another 2 million households not included in the Government’s new definition of fuel poor who are far too poor to afford a Green Deal loan to upgrade their home. With the UK Government and European Commission’s energy policy being such a big disappointment, perhaps major cities could be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for. A new IPPR report explores the options and the potential for cities to engage in the energy supply market and raise finance for investment in low-carbon energy infrastructure – particularly in local energy generation, and ResPublica says communities, local authorities, housing associations and small businesses could enter into the supply market and sell their energy locally.
Now that yet another Government has put the intractable problem of nuclear waste disposal onto the back-burner until after the next General Election, more and more waste problems are coming home to roost, but are being tackled with crazy schemes to move waste around the country or dilute and disperse it throughout the environment under the guise of a so-called waste hierarchy. Over 60 epidemiological studies world-wide have examined cancer incidences in children near nuclear power plants (NPPs) and most of them have indicated leukemia increases.
It is a disappointing litany of failure. High time the Government gave up on its nuclear expansion ambitions and got behind the TUC’s Warm Homes into the Future Campaign and organised a fair support mechanism for all renewable technologies with a decent budget.