Renew On Line (UK) 57
Extracts from NATTA's journal
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7. Commons on Energy
On 19th May the House of Commons debated the Climate and Energy policy aspects of the Queen’s speech, focussing, perhaps inevitably, on nuclear power. The new DTI Minister Alan Williams said that the government was sticking to the 2003 While paper policy, and though not every speaker agreed with that, simple assertions that we desperately needed new nuclear plants were balanced by more cautious views from Conservatives like Damian Green (Ashford) who commented: ‘there are two key questions in the debate on the role of nuclear power. First, can we meet our long-term emissions commitments without a new generation of nuclear stations? Clearly, the evidence can be used either way, but it seems to me that the answer to that question is probably not. Secondly, can we afford to build nuclear plants if we include the costs of waste? On the current evidence, the answer to that question is also probably not. That is why this is clearly a complex and difficult issue.’
Norman Baker (Lewes, Lib Dem) certainly agreed with the second part of this analysis: ‘Nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic. We were told in the 1950s it was too cheap to meter; we have just signed off an energy bill of £48 bn- £800 per man, woman and child in the country- to deal with the mess that we already have, let alone anything else’. And some others felt that renewables were a better solution. Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead, Lab) argued that ‘the Government must use compulsion and invoke the national interest.... to ensure that there are sufficient wind and wave farms and that there are solar panels in all newly built homes. It would not be right to abandon that and to switch to building new nuclear power stations.’
But Damian Greene pointed out that this approach also had a cost: ‘Whichever way we go, it seems likely that some level of subsidy, or of market distortion that creates a subsidy, will be required, as it is now. The idea that the economic problem is purely for the nuclear industry is simply not true. It is true for all non-traditional forms of energy generation at the moment.’
On the issue of whether the waste problem had to be fully resolved before we could build new nuclear plants, he noted that Lord Whitty had commented that “setting us on the course to resolve the problem of radioactive waste is essential”. (Lords 28 Feb 2005; Hansard Vol. 669, c.10.) Greene said that ‘the form of words used by the Minister is interesting. A complete resolution of the problem, which clearly would take some years, is not deemed necessary by the Government, only a “setting on course” to solving it.’
While there was some support for getting on with nuclear expansion, there were also some fears. Indeed, Harry Cohen, reported that ‘many such as myself suspect that that option is returning to the table only to supply a discreet means of sourcing the new nuclear weapons programme’. Norman Baker was even unsure about nuclear fusion:
‘I do not rule out a role for nuclear fusion at some distant date, but I am very concerned about our continuing to plough large amounts of money into it when the money could be spent on energy efficiency and renewables, which are far more effective. That represents another diversion of public funds from something that is certain to deliver to something that may never deliver.’ He added ‘We are not anti-science. We are anti-nuclear.’
Andrew Miller: (Ellesmere Port& Neston, Lab) couldn’t take this: ‘The idea that cutting back fusion research is not an attack on the foundation of Britain’s scientific base is absurd. The Liberal Democrats are promoting an anti-science policy.’
UK CO2 emissions rise…
…and EAC complain
The UK’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.2% in 2002-2003, according to confirmed DEFRA data, while provisional DTI data for 2003- 2004 had emissions still rising by 1.5%, with the main increases being in the industrial (1.8 MtC), domestic (0.4) and transport sectors (0.8).
Environmental groups pointed out that CO2 emissions were higher than when Labour came to power, although they were 4% down form 1990 levels. But the output of other greenhouse gases is less, so though it may struggle to meet its self-chosen goal of a 20% cut in CO2, the UK is still on course to meet its Kyoto Protocol target of a 12.5% overall GHG reduction on 1990 levels by 2010- it had already just about done that. An upbeat DEFRA said that ‘emissions of all greenhouse gases per unit of GDP have fallen by 3.58% per year since 1997; faster than the 3.12% per year achieved in 1990-97 ’.
*The Commons Environmental Audit Committee was not happy about this, or the way the government had reduced the UK’s emissions target after lobbying from industry, in order to save electricity generating companies ‘£33m a year’, which is said “pales into insignificance” compared to “windfall profits” of £500m a year that it said the generators stand to make.
..and there could be Gas shortages
The DTI has failed to take a lead in ensuring that Britain secured alternative sources of gas to compensate for falling production in the North Sea, according to the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry. Britain was therefore now in the “uncomfortable position” of having only a small surplus to cope with any surges above normal winter demand. Chairman Martin O’Neill said it was more than two years since the DTI had said the market could be relied on to deliver the increased gas capacity to offset the decline in the North Sea. “At the moment the market has taken rather longer to respond to the challenge than we would have wished”.
But, commenting on the 70% rise in wholesale gas prices, the committee felt that north sea oil and gas companies should donate some of their “unearned profits” to alleviate fuel poverty in Britain if they were to be spared windfall taxes in the future. “The DTI is somewhat to blame”, Mr O’Neill said,“they have left it to the market”.
The DTI’s last annual statistics indicated that the UK is now a net importer of gas for the first time since 1996, with consumption rising by 3.1% between 2003-4. During that period Oil consumption rose by 1.4%- with aviation fuel demand rising by 9.3%.
* The Scottish Affairs Committees’ new energy report is uncertain about some aspects of Scotland's ambitious renewables plan- see Groups in Renew 157.
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