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12 September 2017

Wind power is cheaper than nuclear – so can we finally ditch the pro-nuclear ideology?

Tory MPs back Hinkley Point yet block wind turbine developments. 

By Molly Scott Cato

This week’s auction of government subsidies for energy show clearly that not only have the Tories been undermining our chances of transitioning to a renewable energy future, they are also forcing up our energy bills.

Two big offshore wind farms came in at £57.50 per megawatt hour and a third at £74.75. These “strike prices” compare with a guaranteed price for electricity from Hinkley of £92.50. This is the price the government agreed in order to persuade the French and Chinese to build the new nuclear plant. So effectively, consumers and businesses will be forced to pay a premium of 60 per cent for the privilege of receiving electricity from Hinkley; a premium that will increase further as the price of renewables falls further over the next six years, up until Hinkley comes on grid – if it ever does.

It is clear that only a government suffering from an acute dose of economic illiteracy would continue with this project. Unless, of course, there are other reasons for continuing this madness.

No one doubts that Hinkley is an economic disaster, but it has been kept alive by a dubious subsidy regime. As a “mature technology”, nuclear should never receive a subsidy, which is why there are ongoing legal challenges on this point. By contrast, the dramatic fall in the cost of offshore wind, and other renewable technologies, prove the value of subsidising “infant industries” until they are mature enough to survive and thrive subsidy-free. 

But it’s not just dodgy economics that have kept the Hinkley white elephant staggering on. It is also a warped anti-renewables, pro-nuclear ideology, something highly evident in my own constituency of the South West.

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It would appear there were no applications for subsidies to build offshore wind in the South West. Why would there be when our region is stalked by Tory dinosaurs who will fight their planning proposals; destroying opportunities for local people, pushing up their energy bills, and denying us the clean energy future we deserve in the process?

Since I became an MEP, there have been two exciting large scale offshore wind proposals in the South West. The Navitus off-shore wind development in Dorset could have secured enough energy to power 700,000 homes, while the Atlantic Array off the North Devon coast, was forecast to power 900,000 homes. Both were ditched in no small part due to dogmatic opposition to wind power.

In both examples, some of the most active opponents were local Tory MPs. In the case of Navitus Bay, where local Tories allegedly opposed the development on the grounds of its potential impact on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Private Eye pointed out that local MP and vociferous opponent of Navitus, Conor Burns, received regular payments from an engineering firm connected with the oil and gas industry (it is listed in his register of interests). Navitus was proposed in an area off the Dorset coast thought to be suitable for oil and gas drilling. Conor Burns has never spoken out against plans to drill for oil and gas in the area.

As for Atlantic Array, the campaign group Slay the Array was led by none other than Steve Crowther, interim leader of Ukip. His party’s policies for the 2017 general election included the repeal of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Interestingly, they promised to support renewables when they could be delivered at competitive prices. Given that is now clearly the case, perhaps Mr Crowther would like to reconsider his staunch ideological opposition to Atlantic Array?

Lest we think it is just the Tories and Ukip standing in the way of a genuine transformation to cheaper, greener energy, Labour too has refused to ditch nuclear. The party is still trumpeting the thousands of jobs new nuclear, including Hinkley, can deliver. This view is deeply flawed. Evidence suggests that renewables create around three times as many jobs as nuclear for every £1m invested.

It is not only operating and servicing renewable energy projects that create jobs. There is also huge potential for job creation through the manufacture of components to support the renewables sector. Siemens in Hull provides a good example of what is possible. The company has invested £310m in wind turbine production and installation facilities, creating more than a thousand jobs. 

Back in 2015, I commissioned a report which demonstrated the potential we have in the South West to generate in excess of 100 per cent of our energy from renewables. The report concluded that we could create 122,000 jobs across the region and add over £4bn a year to the economy. This is not unique to the South West; other areas of the UK could also be energy self-sufficient and reap the economic rewards. And the report was of course written before offshore wind was so much cheaper than nuclear. ​

Now is the time to end our affair with the dangerous and expensive technologies of the past and usher in a new green industrial revolution. There is an opportunity for political unity against Hinkley and in favour of renewables.