August Newsletter No191

Posted by SONE on 30 August 2014 in Newsletters

Three warnings of fragility of energy supplies

Three events this month have combined to demonstrate the fragility of the world’s energy supplies and Britain’s in particular.

The first was Angela Merkel’s dash to Kiev when yet another sub-crisis of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea boiled up with a Russian aid convoy crossing into the Ukraine to relieve pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country. She is desperately worried about Germany’s gas supplies from Russia.

The second was the rise of a self-styled caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq in the form of one of the most barbaric Muslim extremist groups, variously called IS, ISIS and ISIL, yet spawned by the so-called Arab Spring. With that lot on the loose, nobody’s oil supplies are safe, though it is also clear that in addition to sadism they are addicted to oil and ransom money.

Finally, EdF, the French firm which, with the Chinese, is proposing to build a large new nuclear power complex at Hinkley Point in Somerset, had to take two of its eight AGR power stations – at Heysham (1160Mwe) and Hartlepool (1190Mwe) – out of service because of cracks in boiler equipment.

We may not know the longer term consequences for some weeks. But it is clearly not the way to start a winter when the margin in British reserve mainstream generating plant is dwindling to nothing. Mrs Merkel’s energy policy is even more up the spout than ours having decided to go green with wind and solar and phase out much greener nuclear while, of course, building a string of dirty coal-fired power stations as insurance.

All this should signal to our governors the need for security of energy supply without which we cannot have strong economies and without which in turn we have no chance of dealing with threats to world order.

When will they ever learn?

There is no evidence that politicians in the West have learned the lesson yet. They may be worried about security of supply but they have not acted to deal with it. That’ll be the day when EU, if only temporarily, lifts its environmental phase-out of older coal-fired power stations.

There is no sign that Germany or Belgium are re-thinking their phase-out of nuclear power or that France, once the generator of 75% of its electricity by nuclear means, is to lift its newly imposed 50% cap on nuclear. Still less is there any sign of a sense of urgency in the European Commission about its “state-aids” examination of the proposed method of financing Britain’s Hinkley Point project.
Perhaps that – and not the reason advanced – is why yet another Minister has declined to address

SONE’s AGM to be held this year on October 20. Like so many before him, the new Minister for Energy, Matthew Hancock, is too busy – pressure of business – to give us time. They never seem to be too busy to launch useless wind farms. Why, only this month the Government approved a
£2bn array of wind turbines off the coast of Sussex. Do they not understand the implication that nuclear does not look to be central in their eyes to the nation’s needs when they snub the only independent body in Britain promoting nuclear power?

Then take diesel. The Government, it seems, got it all wrong from the pollution point of view in encouraging people to buy diesel-driven cars. The owners now feel betrayed as Islington becomes the first local authority to fine people for leaving their diesel engines running. Yet what will happen if we run short of power this winter? Why, the National Grid will call in diesel- powered generators scattered all over this land to plug the gap, paying up to six times the going wholesale rate for it.
There are more inconsistencies in energy policy than holes in the average sieve.

A question for the consumer

The Government would be under pressure to review its policy if the taxpayer were funding the renewables subsidies. Instead, it is the consumer – and with him commerce and industry – all of whom are handicapped not by taxes but Government-imposed costs. That rather lets the Government with a £100bn budget deficit still to clear off the hook. Discontent with prices is channelled to the regulated energy companies whose charges Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, proposes to control.

The other problem is that the subsidies and schemes stem from EU policy. The Government may have agreed to these legally binding EU targets – perhaps without even understanding the full implications – but now it wheels them out as a justification for its policy.

The question is how much longer can the nonsense that passes for energy policy continue? Theoretically, the election in eight months’ time and the proposed re-negotiaton of our membership of the EU offers the opportunity for a re- assesement and a more sensible approach to obtaining security of low carbon energy supply at affordable cost. Meanwhile, the convenience of consumers paying the subsidies and the EU imposing the targets remains.

Should we switch tactics?
It seems unlikely that the next clutch of manifestos will produce radical changes from the major parties and the Greens. For that reason, perhaps we should concentrate this year on getting over the realities of energy policy for the ordinary consumer, as imposed by the UK and Brussels governments, rather than narrowly promoting nuclear power.

Heaven only knows, there are enough opportunities to fire consumers with outrage. Take the recent news that £70m has been paid to wind developers over the past three years to switch them off because of over-supply on the system. One got £11m and ten at least £3m each.

Perhaps we should find a way of presenting the public with this question – Do you want an energy policy like the present one which:

  • forces you as a consumer to find vast subsidies for expensive renewable sources of energy –notably wind, solar etc.
  • cannot be relied upon
  • contributes little to reducing CO2 emissions (which is why we have them), and
  • represents a substantial transfer of wealth from the poor to rich landowner and developer?

If not, what are you going to do about it?

As a pay-off line we could say: Demand reliable, secure, competitive low carbon nuclear power soonest?

August’s nuclear positives

In fulfilment of our promise to give you positive nuclear nuggets, we offer the following this month:

  • The Chinese are reported to be interested in building a new nuclear power station at Bradwell in Essex.
  • The French Government says nuclear power will remain the “lynchpin” in
    its energy generation mix even though President Hollande proposes to reduce its share from 75% to 50% by 2025.

  • India intends “hugely” to expand its nuclear power in moving away from coal to extend its electricity generation system to reach 300m people.
  • Leaders of 13 Finnish business organisations and unions have signed a letter supporting the construction of another – the fourth – nuclear power plant at Olkiluoto.
  • What will become China’s 21st nuclear reactor has just delivered power to the grid; 28 more reactors are under construction there.
  • Chile’s Association of Engineers is pressing the government to launch a
    new nuclear power programme; South Africa has confirmed its commitment to nuclear power with $81m for R&D.

For dour Diaries – AGM

SONE’s AGM is to be held this year on the afternoon of Monday, October 20 at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Great George Street just off Parliament Square. The speaker (2.30-3.30pm) will be Professor Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester, who is chairing a working party under the aegis of the Nuclear Industry Council on public attitudes to nuclear power.
A formal notice of the meeting together with an agenda and the annual report and accounts will be sent to all members towards the end of September.

An example of perseverance

Somehow, the very last line of last month’s (July) Newsletter disappeared from the page.
This made nonsense of our tribute to a deceased member, Baroness Miller of Hendon, a former Tory Government Whip. It ended saying that she had the “distinction of applying for the candidacy of 91 seats and getting just nine…..” No, she did not get nine seats. She got just nine interviews. We added that this was just the sort of perseverance needed by SONE members in promoting nuclear power. When we get downhearted at the interminable wait for nuclear power’s development, let us remember Doreen Miller.