There are already 5 million households in the UK in fuel poverty, i.e. they are forced to spend more than 10% of their income on soaring electricity and gas bills. Yet the Government is now proposing to put a levy on power bills which will increase them by more than half again in order to bribe EDF, the French power company, to build a fleet of nuclear reactors. Government energy policy is now reliant on three pillars – nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and renewables, all at risk of failure. No CCS plant is operational anywhere in the world, and both the functional capability and cost implications of this technology are unknown. Renewable sources of energy are being developed so slowly that they are certain to miss the mandatory EU targets for 2020 by a wide margin. And given the consequential reliance on nuclear, EDF is now blackmailing Britain into paying it a colossal subsidy which the government swore blind they would never agree to.
The only 2 nuclear stations currently being built, at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France, are both 2-3 years behind schedule and way over the original tender cost of £3-4bn. They are likely to end up costing some £5-6bn. However, EDF is now claiming that the cost of building the Hinckley Point nuclear station, originally set at the extravagant level of £9bn, is set to rise to £14bn. Most independent commentators see this 50% rise, less as a sudden and unexpected rise in costs, and more as the sole remaining nuclear supplier (after German competitors EON and RWE withdrew) holding Britain to ransom.
At present the average power bill costs households £400-500 a year. The subsidy now proposed for EDF would increase these charges by a further £200 a year. Whether consumers will consent to pay this huge hike in energy bills over the next decade, as a time of prolonged austerity, must be doubtful. If they do not, the UK will be forced into increased dependence on imported gas from such unreliable sources as the Middle East and Russia.
The obvious way out of this dilemma is much faster development of renewables. The UK has more wind-power and wave and tidal power capacity, because of its offshore windy location, than most of the rest of Europe put together, yet only generates 5% of its electricity consumption from renewables. By comparison, Germany, France, Italy and Spain generate 10-25% from renewables, and Scandinavia 35-50%. There’s a lesson there for Britain.