On the 21st October 2013 the government announced that a new reactor will be built at Hinkley in Somerset, signalling a new generation of nuclear power plants. Community Energy Plus considers the implications for the renewable energy sector in light of the announcement.
Nuclear power undoubtedly presents a dilemma for the environmentally conscious. We have to weigh up the benefits of this low or zero carbon technology with the troubling legacy of the radioactive waste it generates. Nuclear waste is enormously hard to dispose of safely and needs to be monitored over a timespan of tens of thousands of years. The bill for the clean-up of Sellafield is currently running at £67.5 billion and rising (as of 4th February 2013) with no long-term solution for storage.
It is also worth noting that Uranium for use in nuclear power generation comes mostly from Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan, with others like Russia, Namibia and Niger also producing small amounts. Sourcing uranium therefore does not alleviate our reliance on external markets, or help realise our desire for energy security.
While our conclusion may be that nuclear is a ‘necessary evil’, today’s Hinkley deal also serves to emphasise the case for renewables. Hinkley won’t be fully online until 2023, when it will provide just 7% of the UK’s energy needs. In the meantime as we try to reach our targets for reducing carbon emissions, renewables must fill the gap. Turbines can be built quickly at a declining cost, and if they are no longer needed they can be removed without leaving a visible trace on the landscape. This is in stark contrast to the intensive extraction of fossil fuels, including fracking, which could have disastrous impacts on the environment.
Even when Hinkley C and others which look set to follow are fully operational, generating renewable energy from wind, solar irradiation, geo-thermal sources and wave and tidal power is imperative to help us build a clean, sustainable future. We need to confront the impacts of climate change, which threaten to leave Cornwall vulnerable to colder temperatures, rising sea levels and flooding.
We believe that the benefits of renewable installations can be imbedded in local communities. As well as reducing our carbon footprint, community energy projects use Feed in Tariff revenue to fund environmental legacy projects, and could in the future help improve the energy efficiency of vast swathes of housing stock.
This is the other side of the coin. As well as managing our renewable resources adeptly, we need to design programmes to improve home efficiency and change the way we use energy in our everyday lives. The government has an agreement in place with Hinkley’s consortium which guarantees the price of energy at twice its current value. This should be a wake-up call for us all. The government is forecasting that our energy bills will continue to rise significantly, even with the introduction of new nuclear capacity. Energy efficiency in the home is paramount, as is finding ways to support the most vulnerable people in our society who are at risk of being priced out of the energy market entirely, with dire consequences.
If you would like to talk to us about your own community energy project, call 0800 954 1956.