You may have been disappointed to read recently that planning permission has been granted for EDF Energy to start construction work on the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset.
But the battle is far from over.
EDF and the Treasury are still in deadlock over a strike price – the guaranteed price at which the government will buy power from EDF over next 30 to 40 years. EDF has been pushing for a price of around £100 per megawatt hour – twice the going rate for today’s electricity.
Any ‘contract for difference’ deal with EDF will lock us into paying insanely high energy bills for many decades. Meanwhile the cost of renewable energy is going down. Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate change commissioner, maintains that offshore wind power makes much more sense than nuclear, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/17/wind-cheaper-nuclear-e....
Even if the Treasury strikes a deal with EDF, the French-owned energy giant still has further hurdles to overcome. After Centrica withdrew as a minority shareholder from the Hinkley project in February, EDF is still looking for a new partner to bridge the investment gap.
Meanwhile nuclear watchdog, Energy Fair, has sent a formal complaint to the European Commission claiming that the government is rigging the energy market in favour of nuclear power. The EU is taking this seriously and an investigation could take up to two years. You can read Energy Fair’s full press release here: http://www.energyfair.org.uk/news-releases/legal-bid
Greenpeace has also lodged an application for a judicial review of the government’s decision to grant consent for the Hinkley C project. It’s believed that that the application is based on an absence of "effective arrangements" for dealing with the nuclear waste that would be generated.
At the beginning of the year, Cumbria County Council rejected government plans for a massive long-term nuclear waste repository underneath the Lake District following a highly vocal campaign by anti-nuclear activists in the region. No other solution is on the table.
Greenpeace’s legal challenge comes hot on the heels of a challenge from the National Trust for Ireland. This applications contends that the Irish people should have been consulted on the Hinkley plans, given the risk of environmental damage to neighbouring countries from radiation pollution.
On the subject on subsidies, Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, has tabled six amendments to the Energy Bill that is currently going through Parliament. The amendments aim to challenge the unfair support being given to new nuclear at the expense of renewables.
The amendments call for: greater transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of any contracts drawn up between government and nuclear companies; the removal of payments to nuclear companies through contracts for difference or the capacity mechanism; and the removal of any public underwriting of construction costs or other investment contracts.
Caroline has asked for our help in drumming up support for these amendments. We would therefore be very grateful if you could print off the letter below and send it to your local MP. (It’s basically asking your MP to support Caroline’s changes to the Energy Bill).
It would be even better if you added some comments of your own at the top of the letter: apparently MPs take more notice of letters that are personalized.
It would also be really useful for us to know which MPs have been sent the letter. So if you’re emailing your letter, could you please add our email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the blind copy/Bcc subject line. If you’re sending the letter by post, could you send us a short email to let us know who you’ve sent it to.
Most important of all, we understand that the report stage of the Energy Bill will take place on the 3rd and 4th of June, so please send your letter as soon as possible.
If you are unsure who your MP is, you’ll be able to find the details here (if you are unable to open this link, go to http://www.theyworkforyou.com).
Many thanks for your continuing support of the Stop New Nuclear Alliance. We’ll be in touch again soon.
DRAFT LETTER TO MP
Dear [insert name of MP],
I am writing about the Energy Bill to ask you to support the six amendments on nuclear power. These amendments have been tabled by the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, and are gaining cross party support.
I would like you to add your name to amendment numbers 23 to 28 before Report Stage of the Bill, which will take place on 3rd and 4th June, and to represent my views by speaking and voting in favour of these amendments in the House of Commons.
The Coalition Agreement made a very clear promise that new nuclear power stations would only be built if the industry got no public subsidy. I am disappointed that ministers are backtracking from this. Because of the huge cost increases for new reactors and the withdrawal of major companies from the consortium interested in building nuclear power, they are now introducing mechanisms to provide financial support through the Energy Bill.
I am very concerned about the high cost of nuclear power and the secrecy of the Government’s negations with EDF Energy. Estimates of the cost of electricity from new nuclear are around double the current electricity prices and the Government’s current proposals would lock us into these high prices for the lifetime of the power station, i.e. around 40 years.
You may have read that Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate change commissioner, said that, whilst some people believe nuclear is cheap, even offshore wind is cheaper than nuclear, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/17/wind-cheaper-nuclear-e....
I believe that renewable energy sources, coupled with new storage technology, energy demand reduction, and wider European integration through cross-border electricity interconnectors can provide the necessary generation capacity. Germany is providing a strong example of a nuclear-free energy strategy that is safe and affordable.
Furthermore, Ed Davey, Secretary of State, has said that nuclear power must be “price competitive” and represent value for money for consumers if it is to be taken forward.
More recently, Michael Fallon, Energy Minister, said: “Any deal reached would have to be fair, affordable and value for money”. Caroline Flint has said that Labour is in favour of nuclear power but that the decarbonisation of our power supply must be done in the most cost-effective way. And that any strike price agreed must reflect a fair deal for bill payers.
There are three key amendments that I would like you to support – even if you are not opposed in principle to nuclear power:
Firstly, in order to achieve these aims, please will you support amendment 24. This already has cross party backing and would ensure that payments under a Contract for Difference for nuclear electricity are not greater than payments for any form of renewable generation. This would recognize that nuclear is a mature technology - as well as cross party consensus on the importance of protecting bill payers from unnecessarily high costs. This amendment would prevent nuclear power from getting a larger subsidy than less mature renewable energy technologies, in terms of price per megawatt hour and the length of the contracts that would be provided.
Secondly, I would like you to support amendments 26 and 27 on transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of any contract. These amendments increase the transparency and accountability around DECC’s negotiations with EDF Energy or other companies building new nuclear power, in respect of investment contracts (amendment 26) and contracts for difference (amendment 27). The amendments would require the Secretary of State to ask the National Audit Office and Parliament to examine whether the contracts represent value for money, in line with the backbench business motion debated on 7 February 2013, and the cross party group of MPs and academics who wrote to the NAO recently asking for this, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/9975199/UK-nuclea...
Thirdly, amendment 28, which rules out payments to nuclear power through the capacity mechanism. There have been reports that DECC is looking at this option. New nuclear power already stands to gain huge subsidies through the contracts for difference and investment contracts in the Bill. Subsiding new nuclear power through the capacity mechanism would also contravene Ministers’ commitment not to give public subsidies for new nuclear power. This amendment also rules out the possibility that existing nuclear power could receive taxpayer handouts via the capacity mechanism. The capacity mechanism is supposed to be about ensuring supply meets demand at times of peak demand but nuclear is one of the least flexible electricity generation technologies available.
I am strongly opposed to new nuclear power for economic and environmental reasons and I have seen a lot of evidence that we do not need new nuclear to meet carbon emissions reductions. I am also concerned that Government support for new nuclear power will mean much less investment in renewables and energy efficiency. Therefore, as my MP, I would like to you support two further amendments on nuclear too:
Amendment 23: this would rule out payments to new nuclear power through the Contracts for Difference Mechanism in the Energy Bill.
Amendment 25: this would rule out any public underwriting of construction costs or other public support to nuclear through investment contracts. It is widely reported that EDF Energy is seeking underwriting / guarantees in addition to a strike price of around double the market price for electricity. Such incentives are not available to all renewables and therefore this is another unjustifiable subsidy to new nuclear power.
I would be grateful if you could write back to me to confirm whether you will represent my views on nuclear power by supporting some or all of these amendments.
If you are unwilling to support them, at the very least please could you write to Ed Davey [if MP is a Lib Dem] / Michael Fallon [if MP is a Tory]/ Caroline Flint [if MP is Labour] to convey my views on nuclear power.
Thank you in advance for your response and I look forward to hearing from you.