As 2017 begins, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) note that whilst the new nuclear and fossil fuel sectors remain in real difficulties, it is renewable energy that is moving forward across the UK, despite antagonistic policies against renewables from the UK Government.
In the nuclear sector, financial and other pressures mount on the three companies that are seeking to build new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point, Sellafield Moorside and Wylfa. At the same time, figures show a record number of oil and gas companies went into insolvency last year. Meanwhile, renewables are contributing record figures to UK energy generation.
For EDF, real alarm must exist as to what the French nuclear regulator ASN will recommend on concerns over potentially critical structural weaknesses found in the Flamanville reactor pressure vessel, as a result of excessive carbon levels. It is not yet known how serious these weaknesses are. Any significant problems with the reactor vessel would create huge issues for EDF as rebuilding it would mean restarting much of the construction work for a project already billions over budget and years late. ASN are expected to publish their findings in the first half of 2017. Any further delays at Flamanville are more than likely to pose significant problems for Hinkley Point C. This is due in part to the financial support package the UK government has offered for Hinkley being based on Flamanville being operational by 2020. If Flamanville’s reactor vessel is found to be seriously flawed, it could push back its completion date to beyond 2020. NFLA will monitor this issue with real interest. (1)
Meanwhile, the funding of new nuclear reactors at Wylfa and Sellafield Moorside remains a difficult issue for Hitachi and Toshiba, amidst active talks between the UK and Japanese Governments in December to publicly fund them, which the NFLA has already noted with concern. (2) Since then, Toshiba’s share price has slumped by over 40% due to major cost over-runs with its United States based nuclear reactor projects. This may lead to it having to sell other parts of its core electronics business to pay for these cost over-runs. Clearly this will impact on how much money it can raise to progress its project at Moorside, hence the extensive recent discussion with government. (3)
In the fossil fuel sector, a report by the accountancy firm Moore Stephens has found that 16 oil and gas companies went into insolvency last year. NFLA shares the concern raised by Dr Doug Parr of Greenpeace UK that the ultimate demise of the fossil fuel industry could create “desolate communities” unless the UK Government takes steps to help the country move towards a low-carbon economy. Dr Parr also noted the comments of Thierry Lepercq, head of research at French energy company Engie, who recently told Bloomberg that the global growth in renewable energy could push the price of oil down to as low as $10 a barrel in less than 10 years. (4)
The growth of renewable energy appears to continue unabated. The latest National Grid figures released by Renewables UK revealed wind power performed strongly during Christmas week, with new half-hourly, daily and weekly UK records set on 23, 24 and 25 December. Wind power supplied a new record high of 41% of the UK’s electricity needs during a half-hour period on Christmas Day. During those 30 minutes, 47% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources. (5) Furthermore, figures from the Federation of Small Businesses show that over one in ten of its members now generate their own energy, mainly from solar. (6) Of particular interest is rapid solar growth in Scotland, where in excess of 200MW of solar has been installed in 2016 across more than 50,000 installations. (7)
All of this evidence shows that UK Government energy policy needs to catch up with the economic reality of developing a low carbon economy. Renewables are delivering far quicker than anything new nuclear can create. NFLA calls for a major rethink of the Government’s energy policy to ensure the country and affected communities can benefit from these rapid changes in the energy market.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
As 2017 begins, the available data shows new nuclear and fossil fuels are under great stress at a time when renewable energy is powering forward. Why does the Government not acknowledge this? It is time for it to rethink its strategy and support decentralised energy led by local government and community cooperatives to deliver the low carbon economy that is becoming ever more realisable. Moves to rapidly deliver renewable heat and transport should also come to the fore as well, rather than preparing to spend billions of public money propping up the foreign owners of Hinkley Point, Wylfa and Sellafield Moorside.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Financial Times, 4th January 2017
(2) NFLA Media Release, 16th December 2016
(3) The Register 3rd January 2017
(5) Business Green 4th January 2017
(6) Daily Telegraph 4th January 2017
(7) Solar Power Portal 3rd January 2017 http://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/holyrood_urged_to_back_scottish_solar_following_landmark_year