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Who wants nuclear power? (Part 1)

Not Wales, or Scotland…they want renewables

The Welsh Assembly Government’s new Energy Policy Statement ‘A Low Carbon Revolution’, sets out an approach to accelerating the transition to a low carbon energy economy in Wales, focusing on efficiency measures and the use of indigenous renewable forms of energy such as marine, wind, solar and biomass. It claims that by 2025 around 40% of electricity in Wales could come from marine sources and a third from wind.

In addition to local community-level micro-generation projects, it proposes the use of offshore wind around the coast of Wales in order to deliver a 15 kWh/d/p (per day per person) of capacity by 2015/16 and to capture at least 10% (8 kWh/d/p) of the potential tidal stream and wave energy off the Welsh coastline by 2025, and it wants onshore wind to deliver 4.5 kWh/d/p of installed onshore wind generation capacity by 2015/2017. It will back small-scale hydro and geothermal schemes, where they are environmentally acceptable, in order to generate at least 1 kWh/d/p, and wants bioenergy/waste to deliver up to 6 kWh/d/p of electricity by 2020 – 50% indigenous/50% imported – also offering an additional heat potential of 2–2.5 kWh/d/p.

It says that ‘any new fossil fuel plants should be carbon capture ready with fully developed plans for carbon capture and storage; and that these plants maximise efficiency through use of waste heat and co-firing where appropriate’ but adds ‘we remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low-carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations’.;jsessionid=xhyPLpMdtJ7TT1gcXtkhq87y4tyk9f9y2QBvDh8Rjj9bGn0ghhqy!-1820637139?lang=en

That puts Wales in the almost the same situation as Scotland. Although its renewable resource may not be as large as that in Scotland, Wales sees no need to develop new nuclear plants.

Scotland of course has been making that case for some while, with the ruling Scottish National Party being implacable opposed to new nuclear, much to the annoyance of the Westminster government. Equally resolutely, the Scottish government has backed renewables. As a result, Scotland now generates around 30% of its electricity demand from renewables, with the contribution from on-land wind (with over 2GW of capacity in place) having overtaken that from hydro, and by 2020 the intention is to reach at least 50%, with wave and tidal power making major contributions.

Scotland’s marine renewable resource is certainly very large, SNP leader Alex Salmond described Pentland firth as making Scotland ‘the Saudi Arabia of marine energy’. 1.2GW of wave and tidal current projects has now got the go ahead in Pentland Firth and Orkney waters and the potential has been put at up to 20GW or more.

The Scottish government has been pushing ahead, most recently via a new £12m Wave and Tidal Energy: Research, Development and Demonstration Support fund – to be known as WATERS – to support the testing of new wave and tidal prototypes in the seas around Scotland. It also has a revenue support system offering five Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) for every MWh of power produced and tidal systems and three ROCs per MWh for wave systems – well in excess of the UK national support system, which only offers 2ROCs/MWh for wave and tidal current projects. In addition, the £10m Saltire Prize, funded by the Scottish government, aims to accelerate the development of commercially viable marine energy. The winning entry, to be chosen in 2017, will be required to harness tides or waves to generate 100MW of electricity over a two-year trial undertaken at some point between 2012 and 2017.

However, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth John Swinney has noted that electricity from wind and marine energy was not the only option. Scotland’s new Renewable Action Plan also focuses on renewable heat and he says: ‘Heat from renewables needs to rise tenfold in the next decade and we will investigate all options to boost the sector, from large scale industrial plants, more energy from biomass and waste, through to microgeneration. We will support growth in, and diversification into, the renewable heat sector with further targeted inward investment.’

The plan outlines a range of ideas consistent with the targets to achieve 50% of electricity and 11% of heat from renewable sources by 2020.

Meanwhile Scotland is sticking to its anti-nuclear position. A 126-page report ‘Determining and Delivering on Scotland’s Energy Future’, from the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, say: “Scotland does not need a new generation of nuclear power stations to be constructed”. Instead, the committee calls for “markedly” increased investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, cleaner fossil fired thermal plants, and if necessary, the construction of a new generation of larger fossil-plants with future carbon capture.

Nevertheless, in a slight concession, it adds that, since most of its existing coal plants and its two old nuclear stations, Hunterston B, and Torness, are scheduled to close and it will take time for the renewables to catch up, ‘there will be a need to extend the operating lifetimes of the current generation of nuclear power stations in Scotland to allow time for the transition to a new electricity system’.

That of course has to be put in context. As SNP MSP Dave Thompson told Newsnight Scotland, ‘At the moment we export 20% of the electricity we produce, which is roughly equivalent to the electricity produced by nuclear in Scotland. If nuclear closed down tomorrow, we would still be producing enough electricity to keep us going in Scotland. What we have to look to is the future, where as we develop renewables: we’re going to be producing potentially ten times the amount of electricity we actually need in Scotland, so we’re going to be exporting massive amounts of electricity to other countries. There’s no point in bringing on new nuclear power stations. We just don’t need them (and) the Scottish public don’t want them.’

The latter assertion may be stretching the point a little. A survey in 2009 of 3,000 people in Scotland, conducted by the Holyrood administration, found that 53% of thought that nuclear energy will be needed in the future to help ensure a secure energy supply, although more people said they preferred renewables to nuclear by a margin of two to one.

As I will be exploring in my next blog entry, subsequently the pro-nuclear position may have strengthened, in Scotland and elsewhere, but the renewables are still supported much more strongly and the Scottish government, like the Welsh Assembly government, has clearly focussed on that.

And there the matter rest for now. None of the proposed 10 new UK nuclear sites are in Scotland or in N.Ireland. One though is in Wales, at Wylfa. Whether that will survive Welsh opposition remains to be seen. It could well be that they will all be in England with, under coalition agreement rules, the strongly anti-nuclear Lib Dems now being unable to vote in opposition, leaving just the Green Party to fight that corner.

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