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Rising costs

Just for the record, here is the evidence once decisions are taken to commission a new nuclear plant, mysteriously the costs escalate exponentially.

In France, the first new nuclear station to be built for many years is at Flamanville. When construction was set to begin in 2005, the first estimates of power output costs were set at about 45 euros/MWh.

By 2010 Electricite de France conceded this was an underestimate. Their best bet was now about 68 euros/MWh.

But this year the French equivalent of the National Audit Office, the 2012 Cour des Comptes, examined the figures. And concluded in its official report the eventual costs were likely to be around 80 euros/MWh. In other words, nearly double the number that EDF first thought of!



Dismal discovery

Throughout this year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has been issuing a monthly online newsletter. I hate to say it, but it is actually pretty accessible, with lots of graphics, photos and all written in layman’s English. So far, so surprisingly good.

Good, that is, until you inspect the content. For instance, in the latest edition, there is a short section lauding “our Warm Front Scheme”.  Which, for those who hadn’t heard about it, is described as having last year “assisted over 24,000 low income and vulnerable households living in energy inefficient housing with advice, heating and/or insulation.”

On the face of it, pretty impressive. Unless you cared to check back upon how many low income and vulnerable households received such help the year before. The total was 170,000 such households. Out of around four million households officially deemed to be fuel poverty.

So this government department is presiding over a programme which is helping around one-seventh of the number of people it did the year before. And is apparently seeking congratulations for such a dismal achievement. What is it about “lies, damned lies, and statistics”?

Suspiciously round figure

It was the regulator Ofgem that originally invented the suspiciously round figure of £200bn as the sum that would need to be spent on new power stations over the next decade. This would be to avoid, in that hackneyed phrase, the lights going out. Those of us who mourn the opportunity to appreciate a clear night sky might reasonably argue the chance would be a fine thing. But apparently the ability to keep every available bulb burning 24 hours per day is the criterion by which civilisation wishes to be judged.

But have you noticed how that magnum figure has subtly altered? So now the government is introducing its’ draft energy Bill with a putative sum for new power station construction up to 2024 of just £125bn. Now even that is still quite a lot of spondulicks, especially as we are now talking about each new nuclear power station costing upwards of £7bn. Perhaps we are learning lessons from Finland and France re: price escalation?

These are needed, we are told, because by 2024 only that solitary beast on the Suffolk coast, at Sizewell B will be operating. This is total rubbish. My more devoted readers will recall, way back in 2009 I stated, when the time came, the fleet of Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs) built in the 1970s would, suddenly, mysteriously be able to have their lives extended, for five, ten, maybe more years.

After all, that is precisely what happened with the first generation of nukes, the Magnoxes. And they mostly ran without interruption. Given just how many months and months Dungeness and Torness have had to be “closed for repairs” over their lifetimes, these power stations have in practice had far less wear and tear use than you might think.

So my advice is, keep all those warnings of “must have more power or the lights will go out” as what it is. Specious, self-serving nonsense.


Much huffing and puffing

After much huffing and puffing, a new European directive on energy efficiency was finally agreed last month. It places for the first time duties upon all electricity generators to deliver agreed levels of kilowatt hour savings from their customers each year.

In the days before the final text was agreed – as ever behind closed doors –  there was an unprecedented outburst from the European Parliament regarding the unhelpful role of the UK Government. The Parliament’s lead negotiator, Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes, pointed the finger of blame for watering down many detailed requirements firmly upon the UK government, rather than upon any of the other 26 governments.

“The UK is weakening the directive, article by article, asking for reduced ambitions in exchange for London’s cooperation” , Turmes said, adding “the UK has convinced other member states to go against the proposal and ask for exemptions.”

“The Green Deal is more and more a smokescreen,” Turmes said in reference to Britain’s position. “The greenest government ever is an impostor, they have no money and no ambition behind words,” he added, referring to Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim of being “the greenest government ever” when he came to power.

Given that time and again UK ministers remind us that the most cost-effective and ecologically sound way to meet all our energy objectives is to use fuel far more efficiently than today, it is difficult to see why the UK government should  – as Reuters reported – be deliberately behaving differently when behind closed doors. Perhaps somebody can enlighten us?

Elinore Mackay

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