July Newsletter No190

Posted by SONE on 30 July 2014 in Newsletters

Methinks these soothsayers are slightly potty

While the good ship “Nuclear Power” is becalmed in the bureaucratic doldrums, there has been a flurry of excitement about David Cameron’s re- shuffle which saw 40 changes and brought in ten women – three into the cabinet.

The reason is that the promotion of Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, to Defence Secretary and the dropping of Greg Barker, Minister for Climate Change, has brought two new Conservative faces to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. They are Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, and Amber Rudd, MP for Bexhill and Battle.
Those in Westminster who read the entrails of these messy occasions told us that in one fell swoop the Prime Minister had tightened the Chancellor’s grip on energy. This is because Hancock is close to George Osborne, having been his chief of staff in opposition, and Rudd has been the Chancellor’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. PPSs, as they are called, occupy a curious position in Westminster – they are not in the government but have their feet on what is called the first rung of the ladder which reaches up to the greasy pole.

It should surprise nobody that the Chancellor wants to get a grip on the Department of Energy, given how much it sprays around in subsidies. After all, the alarm bells are ringing about the budget deficit. In the first quarter to June the Chancellor had to borrow £2.4bn more than in the same period of 2013. Not a good start.
But we have seriously to ask what Hancock and Rudd can do about it when their boss is the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey. He shows not the slightest sign of seeing sense over renewables and expects a Lib-Lab coalition after next year’s election, no doubt with him continuing with the ludicrous policy started by Ed Miliband and continued by Chris Huhne.

Insult added to injury

Let’s take first the Green Investment Bank which was set up in Edinburgh no doubt to try to appease independent-minded Scots. This taxpayer-funded body has just proudly announced that it has invested £668m in 18 “clean” energy schemes and attracted £1.9bn of private money on top of that – i.e £3 for every one it puts into projects.

A lot of this has gone into offshore wind, which is no more green than it is reliable when you take into account the need to cover its power generation with fossil fuels when the wind does not blow optimally. Yet what is happening under Mr Secretary Davey? Why, the Green Bank is planning to raise £1bn for a new fund for investing in offshore wind just as Davey is being forced to ration offshore subsidies.

Worse still, Vince Cable, Business Secretary, says “GIB’s plans for a dedicated offshore wind fund are a real boost for our industrial strategy in a sector where we have a strong competitive advantage compared to other countries. There are great opportunities for British companies and the industry has the potential to create 30,000 jobs for the UK”.

Of course there are great opportunities so long as the subsidies flow. And let us be clear one of the reasons they are continuing to flow is that the consumer is footing the bill as distinct from the taxpayer, who is directly linked to budget deficit control. But we were not aware that Britain’s industrial strategy was to impose ever-increasing costs on industrial consumers. Does Cable know what he is saying?

Incidentally, the GIB claims that its investments will deliver a return to the taxpayer of 8% a year. Unfortunately, the taxpayer is also a consumer – and he is being taken to the cleaners. It is one thing to be robbed by the Government; it is entirely another matter to be fleeced and treated as if you were as thick as two planks.

The subsidy mess

We suppose we should take heart that in renewables-mad Scotland the GIB has come under fire, not over wind, but biomass. It has lent Drax £50m to help convert from coal to wood. This has caused Members of the Scottish Parliament across parties, environmental groups and others to call on it to revoke the loan. A Green MSP said felling swathes of foreign forests to burn in Scotland was “plain daft”. Big biomass should not be on the bank’s books. It was no cleaner than the fossil fuels it replaced.

Then we come to solar power. The director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, which keeps a critical eye on renewables, says the total annual cost of subsidising solar has gone from zero to about £600m in four years largely due to “the extremely generous” £400/MWh subsidies to domestic rooftop solar panels, roughly eight times the then wholesale price of electricity. In spite of cuts, small-scale solar is still about twice as costly per unit generated as onshore wind.

And then came Aurora, an energy research company, to crown it all. It claims that the Government has greatly over-estimated energy prices. It forecasts they will be about one-third lower than estimated by 2020. This would affect the subsidy required – the lower the price the more subsidy needed.

But still the Government throws the consumer’s money around. It has just approved the construction by E.ON of a £2bn 700MW offshore wind farm off the Sussex coast. No doubt it was encouraged by the Parliamentary Science and Technology Office’s amazing view that wind, solar, wave and tidal sources’ relative inflexibility and unpredictability can be managed. In combination with fuel-burning generation, imported electricity, power storage and shifting demand, it says they may provide cost competitive, reliable electricity. Mind you, they do admit they could increase CO2 emissions, which is diametrically opposite to what the damn things are supposed to be about.
Fortunately not all Parliamentarians are as green as that. Nine Tory MPs have tabled a Bill, for debate in January next year, to restrict the height, number, location and operation of wind turbines within 20 miles of the coast and subsidies for them.

Ten months to find viable energy policy

Then came news that Centrica (which has flirted with renewables and nuclear) is calling for no more offshore wind, solar power and solid wall insulation to save the consumer £69bn by 2030. Instead, it wants the Government to go for gas, nuclear and carbon storage (CCS), which has yet, of course, to be proved.

By now our new Energy Ministers, Hancock and Rudd, will have concluded that in a sensible world they would not start from here looking for a viable energy policy. With the Chancellor’s help they have 10 months to find one for the Conservative manifesto. We shall watch their progress. With a bit of luck – EU willing – they might bring us a new nuclear power station, but we shall believe it when we see it.

Towards more realistic safety rules

Professor Wade Allison, of Oxford University, has drawn our attention to a new effort to secure more realistic nuclear safety regulations. A former US Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and past president of the American Nuclear Society, Dr David Rossin, is collecting signatures for a letter to the Society about the actual biological response to low-dose radiation and LNT requirements. He asks those concerned to read the letter on tedrockwellmemorial.org and back it by filling in a form.

Constructive environmentalism

Last month the Scientific Alliance devoted one of its bulletins to constructive environmentalism. We think its conclusion should have wider circulation. It said: “In more prosperous societies, protection of the environment is a matter of higher priority than in countries where the focus is simply on subsistence. Greenpeace should continue to campaign for environmental protection, but not at the expense of economic development. Taking a stand against conventional and nuclear power stations is misguided. Working to minimise their impact on people and the environment would be better for everyone”.

Nuclear nuggets

The best news this month is:

  • EdF has concluded a package of collective agreements with four unions for “effective co-operation” during construction of the proposed new Hinkley Point plant.
  • The UK Govt is having another go at trying to provide a deep repository for nuclear waste by consent – volunteer communities will get up to £1m a year for five years during discussions and £2.5m where interest develops into test boring; this follows Cumbria vetoing the Sellafield area’s willingness.
  • GlobalData, a London firm, reckons nuclear power is recovering from Fukushima and that emerging nations will play a major role in the expansion of its installed capacity from 371GW last year to 517GW by 2025.
  • The regulator has given the go-ahead for re-starting two of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down after Fukushima.
  • The Czech Government has written to the European Commission on behalf of ten member-states commending nuclear power.

Obituary

We regret to report the deaths of three valued members: R F Shepherd, of Pembroke; CarlErik Wikdahl, of Nykoping, Sweden; and Baroness Miller of Hendon, a businesswoman and former Government whip who had the distinction of applying for the candidacy of 91 seats and getting just nine