Sunday, 17 March 2019

Labour undermines renewable energy pledges with state ownership plan for new nuclear power plant

Labour's energy spokesperson, Rebecca Long-Bailey, having previously pledged to put renewable energy on top of the energy agenda has now relegated it far below nuclear power. They have done this with a pledge to take partial state ownership of new nuclear power projects and saying they will do this for nuclear projects that have been abandoned. But giving state priority to these projects, far from keeping the lights on will actually ruin the chances of aspiring renewable energy generators.

The figures speak for themselves. Bailey pledges to reverse what she calls the Government's 'cancellations' of new nuclear projects (Moorside, Oldbury, Wylfa) (factcheck; it was the developers who cancelled them despite being promised tens of billions of state aid). If these projects are brought on line (in addition to the existing Sizewell B and still-not-cancelled projects of Hinkley C and Sizewell C) then nuclear generation will climb to at least 35 per cent of current generation - and even that does not count the Chinese led project at Bradwell.

Meanwhile renewable energy generated 33% of UK electricity in 2018, a figure that, with the recently announced 'sector deal' for offshore wind, will increase to around 65% by 2030 even without any more onshore wind and solar pv which the Labour Party claims to support. It doesn't need a mathematical genius to work out that with 35% coming from nuclear power, there simply will not be any market space for any more renewable energy.

Yet renewable energy, as we have discussed is cheap, becoming cheaper, and needs little or no public subsidy - a big contrast with nuclear, which despite all the promised support, high consumer subsidies, public guarantees of loan funding (none of which is available for new renewable schemes) has failed so far to generate a single kWh. And it will not until at least 2026 even if EDF's schedules for Hinkley C construction prove (miraculously in the light of recent nuclear construction history) to be achievable.

Of course there's no electricity generation shortfall in the near term, and in the medium term there cannot be either, given the amount of renewable energy coming online. There's no capacity shortage either, and there certainly won't be in the medium term given the potential replacement of up to 30 per cent of  our peak generating capacity by battery storage, or failing that, flexible gas generation. That's going to be much cheaper than nuclear power and much more certainly brought on line when we want it compared to nuclear. Batteries will be much cheaper than nuclear and right now gas engines and open cycle plant that are twenty times cheaper than nuclear power to install.

Even if only some of the new nuclear power which Labour wants to back came online, new renewable energy would still be crowded out. This is because electricity contracts given to nuclear power give them 'dispatch priority' over renewable energy, causing windfarms and solar farms to be turned off to give priority to nuclear power. Indeed, this is already happening with our current levels of nuclear and renewables, with, ironically, renewable energy detractors blaming the problem (and the compensation paid to the windfarms) on the windfarms themselves. So not only, in the future are we going to sink into an amazing public morass of handouts to fund these nuclear power stations, but in the process, at best, we are going to be ordering the turning off of renewable energy and paying the operators compensation for this! Of course this is crazy, and the result will be that many windfarms and solar will not be built if the new Labour plan to give priority to nuclear power is implemented.

What Labour ought to be talking about is how to expand the opportunities to substitute fossil fuels used in transport and heating so that the vast potential of renewable energy can be harnessed. Rather than throwing billions upon billions down nuclear black holes we need to spend (less) money on demonstration schemes for large scale heat pumps to serve new district heating systems, funding a much quicker roll-out of fast charge points for electric vehicles, reorganising the regulatory system to favour demand side response, decentralised generation and battery storage. I have written about how independent companies are doing this.  We need to support them. not nuclear power. In recent years electricity consumption has been falling, partly because of energy efficiency measures. We need to expand this strategy as well as giving more long term power purchase agreements to wind power and solar power both onshore and offshore.

There's certainly no shortage of renewable energy options. The Scottish Government is holding a consultation about issuing new offshore wind leases, and there is tremendous amount of onshore wind and solar pv being wasted, and then there are other renewable energy sources being developed, tidal of various sorts, and wave power.. Why doesn't the Labour Party insist on new buildings having to have solar pv installed by law (unless developers can show very good reason why not)?

Instead of giving priority to these things Labour have come out with a daft policy that threatens to take us back to the dinosaur age by comparison.

I really hate to say this, but because the Tories have actually (so far) stopped short of the financial insanities involved in getting all of the projected new more nuclear power stations online and are thus leaving some space for new renewable energy schemes, there is actually a plausible argument to say that now, compared to Labour's new policy position the Conservative Party policy actually favours renewable energy more than Labour!



  1. Please give some credible reference showing that batteries could realistically combine with wind+solar+tide to bridge over when it's a low wind, low sun, neap tide period. All that I've seen is the impossible gulf between an 8TWh electricity storage requirement and much trumpeted 100MWh "breakthrough in grid scale batteries". Rebecca Long Bailey bothers to consider the arithmetic of this and listen to the engineers. That why she recognises how vital nuclear power is if we care about avoiding climate change.

    1. see for example my blog 'Three independent-led developments that herald the way towards the renewable-energy-storage revolution' in March 8th or how in the relatively near future a third of firm generating capacity can be dispensed with using the battery system that is being developed, initially mainly based on EVs. More will follow.

  2. Dave, why do you not write to Rebecca Long-Bailey and explain your concerns. I think she is committed to a real and fast transformation to CO2 free energy. I agree new nuclear plants are not the way forward now owing to their comparitive high cost. (Though research in new ways of generating power including new nuclear ways (fusion, thorium, etc) should certainly be supported.) I feel sure Rebecca will be interested in your ideas and will be convinced by them. Its the speed of transformation to CO2 free power that seems the weakest part of Labour's policy at present. But that will surely change now scientists are saying we have only 12 years to act. Best wishes, John Hemp.

    1. Myself and some academics organised by Ian Fairlie have been trying to do this. Watch this space!

  3. Germany and Japan should be proof enough that RE (solar and wind, I assume your inclusion of biomass in your blog, which I believe to be a mistake as it leads to deforestation) cannot replace nuclear on a grid. Nuclear requires hundreds of times fewer resources and therefore less environmental damage than solar and wind.
    Nuclear is the way to go to prevent climate change and lessen our impact on the environment.