Clean energy? A fantasy, is how the sceptics (mostly on the right) used to have it. Science fiction that won’t be realised for decades. Now if you really want to cut those carbon emissions, let’s build a load of new nuclear power plants, and add it into the mix with gas.
The fallacy of that argument is being brutally exposed. Not only is the technology that allows the extraction of clean energy from renewable sources improving at a rapid pace, the economic case is advancing at the same pace as the environmental one.
The latest example comes courtesy of offshore wind.
Analysts had expected that the guaranteed price for the electricity generated by the next set of farms to be built off the UK coast to come in at somewhere between £70 and £80 per megawatt hour, considerably below the £92.50 that the consortium constructing Hinkley Point C in Somerset were offered to persuade them to pony up the necessary cash.
However, even the most starry eyed of clean energy advocates would have hesitated before predicting the actual result of the offshore wind subsidy contract auction. Two farms will be now be built for £57.50 per megawatt hour.
That’s half what the price of a couple of years age. Some 3.6 million homes will benefit from clean power as a result, and thousands of jobs will be created, assuming the UK can find people to do them after Brexit.
It is essential that we move to a low-carbon future no matter what the cost. Without it, there won’t be a world for our children, much less our grandchildren. The malign effects of climate change are beginning to be felt, and they are only going to get worse.
Because of this I was, at one point, of the school that held nuclear power to be worth the risks it poses if it resulted in less greenhouse gases pouring into our clogged and polluted atmosphere.
But nuclear power may be unnecessary, as the above results suggest. So I’m increasingly of the view that I was wrong.
Sometimes it’s necessary to say that. Too often, when the phrase “I was wrong” is uttered it is jumped upon as a sign of weakness. It should not be so.
Which brings us back to Hinkley. One of the first decisions made by Theresa May when she became Prime Minister was to put the project on hold while an assessment was conducted.
I was critical at the time, but maybe she had a point. The project, after all, had been sharply criticised by none other than the National Audit Office. It had also resulted in the resignation of directors from the board of EDF Energy, the French state-backed power giant that is playing a leading role in the development.
In the end, the Prime Minister bowed to the pressure being exerted by the project’s supporters and gave it the green light.
Reversing that decision will not prove so easy now as it would have been then.
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It will inevitably be messy and probably expensive in financial terms too, at least in the short term.
But in the longer term? The alternatives to Hinkley, the clean, renewable alternatives, threaten to make it look like an ugly white elephant, and a burden that domestic energy consumers will feel for years, before we even consider the risks and the waste that it will produce.
Doing something to address that will require someone with rather more clout than I have to utter those three little words. So, Ms May, give it a try. Stand in front of the mirror and say “I was wrong”. It isn’t so hard and at least that way the nation will have something to thank you for when you’re gone.Reuse content