Saturday, August 27, 2016

What's to be done about Hinckley Point.

Most disappointing consequence of recent Government convulsions is that the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee will be no more. I've been a member since the last Genetal Election. Select Committees 'shadow' Govt departments and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been merged into the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department (BEIS). I'd put a lot of effort into educating myself on this subject. That 'education' process was to some extent a waste of my time - though I will retain an interest in 'energy' issues,

Which brings me to Hinckley Point C. I've written about this before. It's now a month since the French energy business, EDF committed to building the new power station. And almost as long since our new Prime Minister put the whole project on hold. We don't know why - beyond her entirely reasonable wish to consider very carefully before signing off the deal. Media reports suggest the reasons are to do with the scale of Chinese involvement in the overall package, which extends much further than Hinckley. Whatever, we will soon be approaching decision day.

EDF Chief Executive, Vincent de Rivas has written a confident 'bullish' article for the Telegraph extolling the virtues of the Hinckley Point project. He's quite a character is de Rivas. It's easier to nail jelly to a wall than corner him in debate. He cites the Chinese involvement as hugely positive. Must admit I agree with him, even if it grieves me to write so. The shameful neglect of nuclear by the Blair/Brown Gov'ts left the UK without expertise to do the job ourselves. The Hinckley project is too big for EDF on its own, and the Chinese are probably the only realistic potential partners. We do have two other nuclear projects (Wylfa B and Moorside) coming along as well and quietly, but we need them all.

There has been much made of the price the UK Govt has agreed to pay for electricity generated by Hinckly Point over a 35 yr period. It's a lot of money. The comparison usually featuring in comment is "twice the current cost of energy" which has fallen dramatically over recent years. True- but the real comparison is with what the price of energy will be when Hinckley Point comes on stream in the mid-20s. It's unlikely that current low prices will continue (my opinion). Interestingly, the current price of offshore wind is nearer three times the current energy price, though likely to come down over time.

Our future energy needs will be met by a mix of energy sources. Gas (shale or imported) will feature strongly (if we are to stop burning coal). Renewables will continue to expand, particularly if storage technology develops as we hope (interesting to see Vattenfall securing a contract to build a 22MW battery next to its South Wales onshore wind farm at Pen Y Cymoedd).  Interconnectors will play a part as well. And we still hope tidal power will become competitive. And I'm a supporter of solar power. But nuclear is crucial to provide the base load power. We need new nuclear as current aging nuclear plants are decommissioned. Maybe Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) will become a reality in time, but there is not one operating yet. Today, we need large scale nuclear. I have no idea whether the Prime Minister will give Hinkley Point C the go-ahead. On balance it seems sensible to me that we should (if we take decarbonisation at all seriously).  I have a suspicion that she will.

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