With the cold nights drawing in and the heating in our homes being switched back on, the debate about energy prices is making its yearly comeback to the political agenda. However, with the news earlier this month that the building of the UK’s first nuclear power plant since 1995 is to go ahead, what does this mean for the ordinary citizen?
The last few decades has seen successive governments waver on their decision to make the shift from a reliance on fossil fuels to an increased use of low carbon alternatives, but a deal has now been struck and it’s down to the French and Chinese to help us become more sustainable as a nation.
A lack of sufficient internal UK investment means that EDF of France and China General Nuclear Power will now take the lead in building a new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. According to George Osborne, this outsourcing means, essentially, that the cost of the new plant is not coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket. Sounds great, right? Well, the old adage that “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” seems quite appropriate here. In fact, a “strike price” of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of energy produced has been agreed upon, which is almost twice the current market cost of electricity, and will most likely fall directly to the taxpayer anyway.
To lesson the blow, on 21 October Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey claimed that the average energy bill in 2030 would be £77 lower than it would have been without the new plant. But critics were quick to pounce on his statement, asking if it was really possible to guarantee a consumer price over a decade ahead of time? “I can’t guarantee that. Of course I can’t”, came Davey’s response.
However, the gripes don’t stop there. The Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley pointed out that if Hinkley’s entire output is tied to the rate of inflation for 40 years, the consumer could be faced with a “truly astronomical cost” by the end of the contract, something that Davey, Osborne and co. also failed to mention.
The cost to the environment could also be high, as it’s not clear where the nuclear waste will be deployed to, a vital consideration that seems to be overlooked by the coalition’s proposals. The technology exists to create reactors that essentially consumes its own waste, leaving little negative impact behind, but the Government have bizarrely opted for an older model with no such capability.
A recent YouGov poll found that 46% of respondents believed that significantly shifting Britain’s reliance onto nuclear power would be a good thing, with 25% feeling it was bad and 29% not being entirely sure where they stood on the matter. This, combined with both the Government and opposition backing of nuclear power indicate that across the board, the majority of people are largely in favour of more plants like Hinkley.
As well they should be, because they way we currently consume energy is entirely unsustainable for much longer. However, those finer details that directly affect our environment and utility bills that Ed Davey failed to address are the points that we, as consumers, need to be acutely wary of.