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Sunday, August 06, 2017

A contradiction at the heart of Tory Government policy

There are many contradictions and inconsistencies in the commitment by the Conservative Government and their Labour hard Brexit allies to abandon all of our links with Europe so one more should not make a difference.

However, when that contradiction comes about after the policy is determined and because Ministers have not properly thought-through the consequences of their decisions, then there is no excuse. In this particular instance I am referencing the announcement that the UK will ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and redouble its efforts to promote the uptake of electric vehicles.

The Independent reports that although this will help us reduce our CO2 emissions, a huge proportion of which come from transport, and support the roll out of new technologies, the electrification of our transport over the next decades will place enormous stresses and strains on our electricity infrastructure.

In the past, we would have met this demand by building cheap coal power stations, but this would defeat the point of low-emissions vehicles. Instead, and as the paper points out, we will need to meet this huge increase in electricity demand with a range of low-carbon technologies: wind-power, solar, tidal, batteries and crucially nuclear power. They say that nuclear has provided about 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity supply for several decades, and it has done so reliably and without producing any CO2 emissions.

National Grid have estimated that electric vehicles could create as much as 18 gigawatts of extra demand for electricity, equivalent to six Hinkley Point power stations. Yet power stations in the planning stage are just going to replace those which have reached the end of their useful life. There is going to be a massive shortfall in capacity. So why are we leaving Euratom?

Euratom ensures we can access the nuclear materials that we need to power our existing, and future, nuclear power stations. It ensures all the proper safeguards and inspections take place in a way that is consistent with international rules and regulations. We may be able to replicate it, but that work will be costly and could take a minimum of five years, leaving us in limbo. A lot of work and effort will be undertaken to replace the benefits of Euratom and at the end of it we will just be back where we started.

The paper says that However, the risks are immense:

If we leave Euratom without the necessary arrangements in place, then we will be unable to import the material to power our nuclear power stations. Our scientific collaboration will be hindered, and funding may dry up. 

The Government has been clear about the need to decarbonise our electricity supply and that our transport should be powered by ever-greener electricity. This requires investment, policy certainty and a pragmatic and sensible approach to how we shape our energy policy. 

Our decision to leave Euratom delivers none of these things. It is short-sighted, counter-productive and dangerous. That is why there is not a single advocate for our leaving Euratom – other than the Government’s lawyers. 

Leaving Euratom without a viable alternative will only worsen our security of supply position, which is already challenging. Rapid roll-out of electric vehicles over the next decade and beyond will further worsen this situation if we don’t have the policies and investment in place to meet demand, and the Government risks creating a major challenge to delivering reliable, affordable and low-carbon energy.

This is one contradiction that is avoidable if only Ministers think about their new policies before announcing them.
I see that Dieter Helm is to "look at all aspects of the energy industry". The title of one of his 2016 papers looks ironic: http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/regulation/regulation/do-we-need-any-more-periodic-reviews/.

But perhaps he might look at the so-called carbon tax penalising non-carbon-based energy producers along with the rest.

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