Wednesday, 22 April 2015

How the REAL chaos will come with the Conservatives after the referendum

The real possibility of chaos after the election would not come with a Labour Government backed by the SNP and others, but with a Conservative-led Government leading the country into a referendum.  Of course one assumes that David Cameron would contrive to argue to stay in the EU, and that it is most likely that the UK will vote to stay in the EU. That is not the point.

Just as the 1975 referendum was followed by a losing but resurgent Labour left gaining dominance in the Labour Party, and just as the SNP, despite losing the independence referendum are now poised to make major gains in the General Election, so the Tory right would grow much stronger within the Tories after an EU referendum. What would be especially nasty for the Tories is that during the referendum campaign the Europhobes inside the Tories will have formed a common movement with UKIP. 

The resulting political realignment would probably destroy the Conservative Party as we know it. It will surely put them out of office for many years. Perhaps this looming chaos is what has convinced David Cameron to announce his early departure from being Prime Minister.

This scenario is something the Liberal Democrats should think long and hard about as they consider their position in what could be a knife edge Parliamentary position after May 7th. They will not only have to think about whether a majority of a few seats for a continued coalition will really last 4-5 years or whether they could be in a government that could be brought down within 2-3 years – not just by  election defeats but by a civil war within the Conservatives involving a high possibility of defections to UKIP. The Liberal Democrats could end up being sucked down a whirlpool in the process.

It is highly ironic, therefore, that the Tories should now be (practically only) campaigning about a so-called SNP blackmail of Ed Miliband. In fact the SNP have few high cards to play – they have little choice but to end up backing Labour rather than bringing the Tories back into office – because if they did the SNP would lose their newly won seats to Labour at the following election!


But by contrast, a Conservative Government set on course for a referendum that will only generate a right wing activist anti-establishment movement in the process is heading for self-destruction. Little in British politics could compete with the chaos that will result from that. If any election was politic for the Conservatives to lose, and for Labour to win it is this one – for long term Tory interests if not Labour’s! But before we drown ourselves in cynical hopes, we should know of course that we should avoid a referendum that has declining support amongst the electorate and focus on getting some more equality back into the economy. Not to mention some ecological sustainability.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Tories plan huge waste of UK renewable energy resources - and UKIP want to scrap acid rain as well as carbon laws

Nearly 5GWe of onshore wind power schemes already given planning permission and a further 5 GWe awaiting planning consent face the prospect of not having the finance to be installed  if the Conservatives win the election in May. The Tories are promising that onshore wind will not be funded after 2020. Their manifesto proclaims a desire 'to halt the spread of onshore windfarms'. But they will back nuclear power and gas fired power stations. Yet the Conservative manifesto pronounces that; 'We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible'. The contrast between the pledge to give local people a say over proposed windfarms and a refusal to allow the same for fracking is breathtaking.

So, how can nuclear power, whose already expensive Hinkley C government price tag is proving an underestimate as the scheme falters, be 'cost-effective', even when the government claims for its cost are a lot more than onshore renewables? And how can more gas fired power stations cut carbon emissions when the average amount of carbon per kWh of electricity consumed is already down to the level of power from a gas fired power station? There is no mention at all of solar power in the Conservative manifesto, and the only specific renewables that appear in the manifesto are offshore wind and the Swansea tidal power scheme, for which, as mentioned in a recent blog post, there is no prospect of necessary government support.

So, the Conservatives, even on paper, are heading for a more expensive carbon reduction strategy. Given the likely failure of the nuclear new build programme, even the claimed carbon reductions from that will not happen.

As I said earlier, what is really happening is a massacre of the UK's currently consented wind power portfolio, which the Lib Dems have failed to prevent within the coalition. Some of the 10 GWe of wind power schemes under threat will not gain planning consent, and some will be awarded so-called 'contracts for difference' (CfDs) under the Government's current programme of awarding contracts through auctions under electricity market reform (see previous blog post). But I estimate that at least 5GWe of already planned onshore wind projects that have or will get planning consent will be left stranded with no premium price contracts - and won't be implemented. This represents on its own over 3 per cent of UK electricity consumption - no doubt much  more would be forthcoming if it were not for the threat of the Tory axe. Very few solar farms are being awarded CfDs. No wonder the accountants are writing down the UK as an investment possibility for renewables. See report at http://mailcampaigns.lumasweb.co.uk/t/ViewEmail/r/A7BCA7396FC302402540EF23F30FEDED/66DF1788DB094D20948D468F162BC46E

The Lib Dems are promising in their manifesto a 60 per cent 'indicative' target for renewable energy as a share of electricity by 2030. But, given the Tory manifesto such a pledge seems dead in the water if there is another Tory-Lib Dem coalition, or even a Tory minority government where influence on the specifics of energy policy would be even weaker. The Lib Dems could gain a specific target only in a coalition or deal with Labour who have pledged complete electricity decarbonisation by 2030. A specific target for renewable energy is important, for otherwise Labour may rely on fantasy nuclear power stations and CCS projects that usually don't happen to provide the bulk of the target. Labour is promising to give the task of deciding the content of their decarbonisation programme to a committee, I assume of the great and the good in the increasingly out-of-date centralised power station industry. But of course, do not get me wrong, a Labour-led Government is much, much, preferable to the increasingly energy-atavistic Tories whose biggest concern seems to be placating stone-age UKIP leaders.

The Green Party is the most specific about targets for renewable energy, and also the most realistic since they do not rely on nuclear power to achieve carbon reduction targets. They don't specify complete decarbonisation of electricity but would set a regulation so that, in effect, carbon emissions would be reduced to 10 per cent or less of what they are now by 2030. The Green party set ambitious targets from offshore wind and solar pv to be achieved by 2020.

The SNP manifesto is generally supportive of renewable energy, focussing particularly on offshore wind and also connecting up Scottish islands to the mainland so that they can develop renewable energy more efficiently and economically. That is one issue where they can be reasonably confident of achieving concessions from a Labour Government, and presumably the Lib Dems would not object. It is a pity that the SNP manifesto did not also mention solar pv, however. In the past, at least, some SNP people have mistakenly seen solar pv as a 'southern Tory' resource. In fact the difference between Surrey and Scotland in terms of solar pv output and economics is much more marginal than many people assume.

As for UKIP, well, oh dear. I'm surprised that this 'back to the 50s' party are not demanding a return to steam powered trains! They have, perhaps predictably, opposed subsidies for wind and solar power, demanded the repeal of the Climate Change Act, but more curiously highlight a wish to scrap the 'Large Combustion Plant Directive'. For the uninitiated the LCPD is an EU Directive issued originally way back in the 1980s designed to curb acid emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Not content with wishing to promote carbon emissions, UKIP appears to want to promote acid rain as well. I mean why worry about a few fish swimming around in the rivers, or Norwigian's who used to complain about us dumping acid rain into their rivers?

See https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/manifesto2015/ConservativeManifesto2015.pdf

http://www.ukip.org/policies_for_people


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Faults found in EPR rector core threaten projects in France, China and the UK


As if things were not bad enough for the prospect of completing constructions of the ailing European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design, things have now gotten worse with the discovery of a serious flaw in the reactor design. This threatens the future of the already very late EPR at Flamanville in France, but also may threaten the completion of two (also late) EPRs being built in Taishan, China, the disastrously late plant at Olikuoto Finland and the increasingly unlikely plans for a twin reactor for Hinkley C in the UK (see previous blog post). This is because the company that produced the faulty reactor also makes parts for the other EPRs.

This turn of events has been dubbed 'a disaster for French nuclear power' by Le Parisien newspaper. According to Reuters the French nuclear regulators (ASN) have been told that tests 'had shown that in certain zones of the reactor vessel and cover of the EPR there was a significant concentration of carbon, which weakens the mechanical resilience of the steel and its ability to resist the spreading of cracks.....' .AREVA (the French state owned nuclear constructors)  'declined to comment on whether the tests would lead to new delays for Flamanville and impact three other EPRs under construction, one in Olkiluoto, Finland, two in Taishan, China.'

There is interest in the impact on the Chinese reactors insofar a) the extent to which the reactors for China are being made by the same company as is supplying the French parts b) the way that the Chinese regulatory authorities will respond to any problems that may exist. In the past the French nuclear regulator has complained about a lack of cooperation with their Chinese regulatory counterparts.
Updates: 1) Chinese safety regulators say that Taishan plant will not be commissioned until safety issues addressed - Chinese regulators will cooperate with French nuclear regulators. See https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5808-Chinese-nuclear-di
http://www.ecns.cn/2015/04-15/161760.shtml
2) French nuclear safety chief dubs reactor flaws as 'very serious'. Analysts are lining up to pronounce doom for the UK new nuclear programme and the French nuclear industry as a whole. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-nuclear-strategy-faces-meltdown-as-faults-are-found-in-identical-french-project-10186163.html
3) 'A disaster for French nuclear power'; http://www.leparisien.fr/economie/epr-de-flamanville-un-desastre-pour-le-nucleaire-francais-17-04-2015-4700983.php#xtor=AD-1481423551&xtref=http%3A%2F%2Fl.facebook.com%2Fl%2FJAQEZKnSRAQELHhOEXJfR04LAojkCTfIYtD2e6fwXqbhgDw%2Fwww.leparisien.fr%2Feconomie%2Fepr-de-flamanville-un-desastre-pour-le-nucleaire-francais-17-04-2015-4700983.php%2523xtor%3DAD-1481423551

Other sources:

http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL5N0X540W20150408

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/07/areva-nuclear-anomalies-idUKL6N0X41S920150407

http://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/energie-environnement/0204285468905-nucleaire-lepr-de-flamanville-confronte-a-de-nouvelles-difficultes-1109071.php#xtor=RSS-41

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1762861/french-warning-nuclear-reactors-being-built-guangdong

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-18/french-nuclear-regulator-says-china-cooperation-lacking.html

https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5808-Chinese-nuclear-di
http://www.ecns.cn/2015/04-15/161760.shtml



Friday, 3 April 2015

EDF abandons Hinkley C project after Chinese demands cannot be met


As EDF has for the umpteenth time put back of the date of its 'final investment decision' on the building the Hinkley C nuclear power station, it has emerged that key stumbling blocks are two very tough demands being made by the Chinese nuclear companies on the British and French Governments. EDF has suspended its work on the project. It has been a marvel how the 'groundwork' has been carrying on for so long. I suppose you could call it a job creation activity digging holes in the ground for probably little purpose.

The Chinese nuclear interests, who are needed to provide a large part of the equity investment in the project, are demanding that the French Government agrees to carry the can and pay for cost overruns on the project. Given the delays and thus cost overruns in the four EPR projects currently being built in Finland, France and China, cost overruns seem a racing certainty if Hinkley C goes ahead. So in this way the Chinese are only being rational.

Chinese nuclear interests are demanding that, in effect, the British Government give them the go-ahead to build a Chinese reactor design at a future power project at Bradwell in Sussex. In other words, it seems that the Chinese are interested in the Hinlkey project in so far as it can advance their interests in getting into the British electricity market.

But there are big problems with the idea that either the French or the British government will or can agree to these demands. In the case of France, it is already trying to fund the massive deficit in an effectively bankrupt (albeit state owned) nuclear industry, including the massive debts accrued by constructors AREVA in its development of the EPR reactor. The nuclear interests are very strong in the French state. But are they really going to persuade the French taxpayer to effectively pay for a large chunk of a very expensive power station for the alleged benefit of British consumers?

In the case of the British Government it seems very difficult to understand how it can undercut all of the regulatory procedures to give an automatic clearance, in advance, for a new reactor design - wherever it could be from. The procedure will take years.

Of course the supporters of the project argue that without it the light will go out, Given the tremendous uncertainty about when such a project would actually generate electricity, it would seem more plausible to argue that the lights are much more likely to go out if we are excluding other projects (particularly renewable ones) in order to wait for Hinkley C to come online!

It has always been irrational to expect the economic projections made by government on nuclear power to come to fruition, since the project defies any commercial logic to it. In that sense reality is merely calling the government's bluff.

For background stories see:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/644db33e-d91a-11e4-b907-00144feab7de.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/utilities/11512472/EDF-cuts-workers-at-Hinkley-nuclear-project-pending-deal.html

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/utilities/article4400549.ece




Sunday, 22 March 2015

Why Miliband should firmly rule out a coalition with the Tories

As the election date nears and it looks like the Conservatives may not (after the election) be able to win a confidence vote in the House of Commons we can see the first shots in a campaign to win the election by other means - by inveigling Labour to join in a 'government of national unity'. Everybody on the left and centre-left of British politics should resist this in the strongest possible terms. First because a 'grand coalition' would thwart a Parliamentary majority in favour of a range of measures that would come with a Labour administration, and second because it would deliver a crippling blow to the left from which it would not recover for a generation.

On the one hand Labour is pledged to carry out a perhaps unspectacular, but nevertheless healthy, list of centre-left measures: getting rid of the bedroom tax, curbing persecution of people receiving benefits, reforming zero hour contracts, increasing the marginal rate of tax for rich people, cutting back public spending a bit less than the Tories, giving incentives for onshore windfarms and solar farms...........

Not much of this will be left with a coalition led by a Conservative Prime Minister. And no doubt, to boot, we would end up with a referendum on the EU with the Labour Leader watching helplessly as the Conservatives negotiate with the EU to allow greater discrimination against immigrants from the EU.

The Labour Party would be terribly divided (much more so than the Tories). The SNP would announce that there was no difference between Labour and Conservatives, satirising Jim Murphy's 'vote SNP get Tory' call by saying 'vote Labour get Tory'. Far from defending the union as some top Tories are suggesting, it would deal it a further blow as nationalists would point to such  a national coalition government as proof perfect that the only way to have a different sort of government was to support the SNP, and independence for Scotland. In England UKIP would be given a powerful fillip. The Green Party might gain a few votes, but only at the expense of creating a generational shift to the right in British politics. The Tories would benefit most.

All the major historical precedents suggests that for the Labour Party, joining a national coaltion would be a disaster. We all know (or should know) about how Ramsay Macdonald nearly destroyed the Labour Party in 1931 and that in the ensuing election Conservatives trounced the now truncated Labour Party in the polls. Then there is the more recent example, in Germany, of how the SPD were in a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU from 2005 to 2009, and at the 2009 General election the SPD lost a third of their vote, a result from which they have still not recovered.

The SPD have repeated the exercise in 2013, of course, apparently in the absence of better alternatives and after some hard bargaining. But before we follow Gisela Stuart in thinking that the SPD (so far bad) experience with grand coalition politics is something to consider we should remember that in the UK there is a healthy tradition of minority governments.

Labour formed minority governments in 1923 (then being only the second largest party), in 1929, and also in February 1974. The latter proved to be a good foretaste of a small majority a few months later for Harold Wilson's Government.

Of course the Conservatives will do all that they can to deflect the public mind from the very workable possibility of a Labour minority government. In the aftermath of a campaign where David Cameron is left unable to form a majority government we will see a massive campaign in the Tory press for a grand coalition. All sorts of 'wise' elder statesmen will pop up to support this self-serving Tory proposition. They already are - John Major, Ken Baker, and of course, notably, Ian Birrell, the speechwriter for David Cameron.


We need now to start up a campaign against a grand coalition, and put pressure on Ed Miliband to rule it out. This is a fundamental threat to progressive politics in the UK.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Osborne's fantasy tidal lagoon announcement

UK Treasury PR gimmickry entered a new phase last week when George Osborne 'announced' what was, according to the Daily Mail 'the centrepiece of ambitious renewable energy plans'. That is, progress towards the building of a tidal lagoon scheme in Swansea, Wales.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3000083/Osborne-s-1bn-plan-green-energy-Chancellor-set-use-Budget-announce-plans-world-s-tidal-lagoon-generate-electricity.html

Alas, none of the rest of the press saw through this empty facade, either, although one might expect papers like the Guardian to be a little more questioning of this sort of hype. Nevertheless the announcement had lots of energy analysts scratching their heads as to what exactly the Chancellor was suggesting that was actually well, never mind new, but actually happening about the scheme in terms of Government giving financial incentives. The answer is absolutely nothing (other than the government will talk about things).

The UK Treasury have developed a habit over recent years of announcing big plans for funding energy schemes as part of its PR for public spending reviews and budgets. This trend began under the latter stages of the last Labour Government when it announced premium price levels for offshore wind. It continued with this government with announcements about 'agreements' and loan offers to nuclear power as well as strike prices for renewable energy. There has been a trend, observable already, for such announcements to become ever more wistful. The announcements for Hinkley C look so - more like face saving devices through announcing prices and incentives for Hinkley C that are lower than what is really needed to put the project into practice (and which would be politically unacceptable).

But the announcement about the tidal lagoon project is even worse in terms of its fantasy rating. It does not even get within a hundred miles of providing the tidal lagoon scheme proposal with the means to be implemented - the tidal lagoon project needs not just a good strike price but also loan guarantees like have been offered to Hinkley C. It serves, rather, as a smokescreen to hide the cliff edge of investment cut-off that much of the renewable energy industry faces if the Conservatives regain power in May. See my last post on the Tories preparing a massacre of onshore renewable energy schemes.

So who are the Conservatives kidding? Themselves, maybe, into believing that a fantasy renewable energy programme is a substitute for a real one? Surely nobody else can believe this nonsense. They certainly ought not to do so.

The tidal lagoon technology is highly innovative, the sort of project that the UK should be proud to advance. We need to give it the real support that will make sure it happens, not the fantasy nonsense issuing from the Treasury.
For some project details, see:
http://www.tidallagoonswanseabay.com/

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Tories preparing onshore wind power massacre as Labour misses another Scottish opportunity

Nearly 5GWe of onshore wind power schemes already given planning permission and a further 5 GWe awaiting planning consent face the prospect of not having the finance to be installed  if the Conservatives win the election in May. The Tories are promising that onshore wind and solar projects will not be funded after 2020. They will only support some offshore wind projects and solar pv on rooftops.

Some of the 10 GWe of wind power schemes under threat will not gain planning consent, and some will be awarded so-called 'contracts for difference' (CfDs) under the Government's current programme of awarding contracts through auctions under electricity market reform (see previous blog post). But I estimate that at least 5GWe of already planned onshore wind projects that have or will get planning consent will be left stranded with no premium price contracts - and won't be implemented. This represents on its own around 3 per cent of UK electricity consumption - no doubt much  more would be forthcoming if it were not for the threat of the Tory axe. No wonder the accountants are writing down the UK as an investment possibility for renewables. See report at http://mailcampaigns.lumasweb.co.uk/t/ViewEmail/r/A7BCA7396FC302402540EF23F30FEDED/66DF1788DB094D20948D468F162BC46E

Labour's Tom Greatrex has missed a prime opportunity to outflank the SNP when he talked about how Scotland needed nuclear power. What he should have done is called for a bigger renewable energy target for Scotland. Labour says it wants to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030. See http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/labour-to-decarbonise-electricity-sector-by-2030-miliband-says/1054562#.VPSd-PmsVZ8 and for Greatex's nuclear focus see http://www.thenational.scot/news/new-nuclear-is-a-burning-issue-again-as-politicians-clash-over-energy-plans.660

So don't we need some new, more radical targets for Scotland? 150 per cent by 2025 would seem moderate (perhaps even puny) in this scenario. Actually Scotland is making rapid progress towards its current 2020 target of 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020. 150 per cent by 2025 is certainly plausible, and with onshore and offshore renewable energy prices falling, quite cheap.

The Danes, as usual the trailblazers in wind power, have just announced a contract for what will be the world's cheapest offshore wind park, at just £75 a MWh, for just a 12 years premium price contract. Compare this with the Hinkley C deal of £92.50 for a staggering 35 years and £10 billion of loan guarantees that offshore wind does not usually receive (and a nuclear scheme that is unlikely to be built even on these terms!). See http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/27/us-vattenfall-windfarm-denmark-idUSKBN0LV1F520150227

The time to increase the Scottish target is now. Instead Tom goes on about nuclear power, a technology whose credibility ebbs away as the prospect of the Hinkley C project, and any other major nuclear project, gradually wilts away. So decarbonisation depends on renewables. Greatex could also try to outflank the SNP by arguing that after 2020 that the Scots need English money to pay for more renewables north of the border. Instead, as usual, Labour is grabbing defeat from the jaws of its 'no' vote referendum victory, in this case by focussing on failing nuclear technology rather than pointing the way forward to renewables.