Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Energy security is worth paying for

The challenge confronting ministers as they plan our future energy strategy is simply put. A fifth of the UK’s electricity generating capacity will be lost over the next decade as elderly nuclear plants are decommissioned and dirty coal-fired power stations closed.

Yet demand for electricity is forecast to double between now and 2050. The draft Energy Bill published yesterday is an important step towards plugging the gap. The task is proving that much harder because of the last government’s unwillingness – until its dying days – to commit to a new generation of nuclear reactors. That lost decade means we face a real threat of power shortages within the next few years. In 2009, official figures were published showing that by 2015, unmet electricity demand would amount to 3,000 megawatt hours a year, roughly the equivalent of blacking out a medium–sized city for a day. The economic downturn may have pushed that worrying prospect back, though not by much.

Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, has rightly given nuclear generation the central role in our future energy mix. It is clean and reliable. The draft Bill proposes long-term contracts to incentivise energy suppliers by guaranteeing a profit if they invest in nuclear, as well as in renewables. Such certainty is crucial. The withdrawal of the German energy companies E.ON and RWE from the British nuclear programme was prompted by Germany’s panicky decision to turn its back on nuclear power following the Fukushima meltdown. Nevertheless, it was hardly a vote of confidence in our nuclear industry. The new legislation should help instil such confidence. More


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