Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, the general consensus is that a move towards low-carbon energy generation is crucial. Pumping out excessive CO2 is bad for the environment from any perspective. That is why I welcome the proposed plans for new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point.
Predictably, the mere mention of 'nuclear' sparked fervent green scaremongering about rises in energy bills and claims that the money would be better spent on renewables, even though Government estimates show that energy bills will be £77 lower by 2030 with new nuclear plants.
The Government has also agreed a "strike price" of £92.50 for every megawatt hour generated by Hinkley Point, which will decrease to £89.50 if a second nuclear plant is agreed at Sizewell in Suffolk. While this is almost twice the current wholesale cost of electricity, it is less expensive than many current renewable technologies. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, onshore wind currently costs around £100 per megawatt hour, offshore wind comes in at £155, solar costs £125 while wave and tidal power are completely unfeasible at £305 per megawatt hour.
Once operational the Hinkley Point project will meet around 7% of the UK's total energy supply. It will also create around 25,000 jobs during construction, with 900 permanent jobs available over the plant's lifetime. While the new build will cost around £16 billion, it will provide a constant source of low-carbon power for the next 60 years. Conversely, a planned 339 turbine wind farm in the Moray Firth will cost around £4.5 billion to construct. At best, it will provide power for 1 million homes and even with constant, expensive maintenance, the turbines will start to fall apart within 15 years.
Intermittency will not be an issue with the reactors at Hinkley Point. Unlike renewables, nuclear power provides a constant, steady supply of energy with around 90% efficiency. Offshore wind struggles to reach 30%. The Hinkley Point deal has been delayed so long because of the dogmatic focus on intermittent wind energy. The nuclear companies have held out for a guarantee of double the going rate for any electricity they produce over the entire lifetime of the plant because they know that every time the wind blows, the national grid is obliged to take power from the turbines to meet climate change obligations. Understandably, they are not prepared to invest in expensive nuclear plant if they have to run on standby every time there is a gentle breeze!
Put simply, the Hinkley Point project makes sense. We are facing a looming energy crisis. We are legally obliged to decarbonise. We must also find ways of reducing household bills. We must cut carbon emissions but we must also keep the lights on. We have lost the plot with renewables. We need a low-carbon alternative which will provide a constant source of electricity and ensure energy security. Third generation nuclear power is that alternative and the Hinkley Point project will prove it.
STRUAN STEVENSON, MEP
Note: Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and is President of the European Parliament's Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development.