By Dave Elliott
The UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was introduced to support households, businesses, public bodies and charities in moving from conventional forms of heating to renewable, low carbon sources of heat. It has escaped cuts so far, indeed it is set to expand, but the government wants to restructure it to keep energy costs down for consumers and get better value for money. It expects spending on the RHI to rise from £430m in 2015/16 to £1.15bn in 2020/21, but says it wants to promote wider access and make project more affordable, ‘by firmly controlling costs’.
By Dave Elliott
There is a lot going on in the bioenergy field in the UK, with the government keen on biomass conversion of large old coal fired plants like the 4GW Drax plant in Yorkshire. That’s based on importing wood pellets from North America, something most greens are opposed too (see my last post), especially if it uses whole trees, as some allege: https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/felled-fuel-46611.pdf
By Dave Elliott
Many environmentalists are not keen on using imported wood pellets in old inefficient converted fossil-fueled plants. They say there are better ways to use biomass and better sources- local anaerobic digestion of biomass wastes and residues, along with Combined Heat and Power (CHP). Large-scale biomass conversion, and even co-firing with coal, is sometimes portrayed as an interim option, getting biomass use established, but not everyone is convinced that this helps build up support for local sourcing of biomass. It’s just a way to keep old power plants going, so as to avoid having to write off some sunk costs. There is also the wider debate about the extent to which large-scale combustion of grown biomass, especially from forests, is net low carbon, given that it takes time for new growths to absorb emitted CO2. It’s even been claimed that using wood from trees might lead to more emissions net than from using coal, depending on the source of the wood: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Image/biomass_report_tcm9-326672.pdf
By Dave Elliott
The pro-nuclear Breakthrough institute in the USA says the new Finnish EPR nuclear plant, with an estimated total cost of $15 bn, will, over its 60-year lifetime, provide electricity at 3.5-3.9 cents per kWh, compared to 16.5-21.5 cents per kWh for Germanys solar PV over their 30-40 year lifetimes. Two EPRs would it says generate slightly more than Germany’s solar PV, at less than a fourth the total cost. Is this realistic?
DECC’s new report on ‘young people and energy’, based on participative surveys, shows massive support for renewable energy among young people. 94% of those questioned said that offshore wind was the ‘fairest’ energy technology, 81% said onshore wind, and 94% supported solar energy. This is compared to 2.2% for coal energy and some very critical responses on nuclear- 19.8% of people taking part in the survey thought nuclear power was fair, 26.6% not so fair, 30.8% not fair and 22.8% a raw deal.
These figures are in a report presented by DECC’s pioneering Youth Advisory Panel to energy and climate change minister Charles Hendry. The report calls for greater youth consultation on energy and climate change policy and for young people to get involved.
Based on DECC’s 2050 Pathways project, the report looks at the UK’s energy policies from the perspective of those people who will have to live with those decisions for their entire adult lives. The report was drafted by young people aged between 16 and 25 who visited power stations, nuclear plants and projects promoting renewable energy sources to investigate the issues at first hand and met with experts, industry, pressure groups and innovators, to look at how we can keep the lights on in 2050 while reducing carbon emissions.
The report says while it is ‘important that there is enough energy to go around’, it would be ‘irresponsible for us to only focus on providing energy to keep living the same way as we are today’. It calls for:
• a fair deal for young people in the decision-making process;
• work to ensure that Government does not lock young and future generations into ecological debt; and
• continued engagement in dialogue with the youth constituency and stakeholdership to ensure that the youth perspective is heard, and responded to, by Government.
Youth Panel member Tom Youngman, 17, Bath, from Eco-Schools and a Green Flag School said: ‘We do not want to inherit a diminished planet, as it often seems we are being asked to, and this is a huge step towards ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for our and subsequent generations.’
Nuclear power was the issue on which opinion was most divided, although a clear majority were against- under 20% were for it. This divide was evidently consistent across our surveys, at the face-to-face workshop and within the Panel itself. The panel found that a critical issue for everyone, regardless of their position on nuclear power, was whether or not the waste can be transported and disposed of safely. They commented “We are very concerned that short-term reasoning is being used to justify building a technology with substantial long-term impacts and responsibilities. The risks associated with nuclear cannot be ignored. Dangerous nuclear waste is a legacy we would rather not leave to future generations, and the heavy investment that will be required threatens to distract us from pursuing safer, cleaner and more future-friendly energy solutions.”
Their recommendations on nuclear included:
• The government must develop a transparent and viable long-term strategy for dealing with our legacy of nuclear waste. This long-term strategy must forecast beyond the current Parliamentary term to at least a minimum of 150 years;
• The government must make sure that adequate funding for the decommissioning of current and any future nuclear power plants is assured in the long-term, and that this financial burden is not unfairly placed upon future generations;
•Any funding or governmental support for further nuclear power development must not detract from any funding or support for alternative, renewable forms of energy.
The Youth report emerged just after a Commons vote on the Justification process for nuclear power, focusing on the case for the European Pressurised-water Reactor (EPR) and the Westinghouse AP 10000. 80% of MP backed the Justification package with just 27 and 26 MPs respectively voting against them. In all, 520 backed the EPR, 517 the AP1000, out of 649 MP eligible to vote, so there were significant abstentions, or no shows. Interestingly though, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne voted for both, despite the Lib Dem agreement that the party would maintain an anti- nuclear stance, but abstain from voting.
There had been no commons debate preceding this vote, although the House of Lords Statutory Instruments Committee looked at the new nuclear legislation and review process. Greenpeace had told them that the EPR and AP1000 reactor designs were untried and untested anywhere in the world; and that the vendors and operators of the potential new reactors had not yet presented firm plans for the longer-term storage of spent fuel. The Generic Design assessments have also not yet been completed.
With students already taking to the street in large numbers on the University fees issue, and incensed by what they evidently see as a sell out by the Lib Dems, it could be that, if the DECC Youth panel’s anti-nuclear views are representative, we might even see demonstrations on the nuclear issue of the sort already happening in Germany in repose to their coalitions policies.
That’s unlikely in the UK context perhaps, but a clash of views on generational lines does seem possible. Poll data is often misleading (it depends on the questions asked), but for what it’s worth, a recent Ipsos Mori poll for the Nuclear Industry Association found 40% of the adults they asked were in favour of nuclear (up 7% from 2009), 17% anti (down 3%). 47% backed new nuclear build, while 19% did not. Only 25% of women were in favour of nuclear- but that was up 4% from 2009. The result for women apart, these adult figures, and the MPs voting choices, are almost exactly the inverse of those reflected in the, admittedly small, Youth panel survey- with around 80% being against nuclear.
Given the evident concern about nuclear waste, it will be interesting to see if there is any reactions from young people to the governments recent admission that, on current NDA plans, the proposed Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) is not expected to be available to take spent fuel from new nuclear power stations until around 2130, which they note ‘is approximately 50 years after the likely end of electricity generation for the first new nuclear power station’. (From the Government Response to Parliamentary Scrutiny of the draft National Policy Statements for Energy Infrastructure).
The point is that the government hopes that a final site for high level waste will be found and ready by 2040, but it seems it will take 90 years to emplace the existing ‘legacy’ waste in it, so the accumulated wastes from the new plants will have to wait, somewhere, until 2130- long after the new pants have all closed. That’s quite some wait- a few generations of students ahead, if there are any then!
DECC Youth Panel report: www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn10_121/pn10_121.aspx