Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Review of the review

The sofa master has, as expected, officially announced the launch of another energy review. Greenpeace disrupted proceeding and forced the PM to move to a smaller venue for the statement. That really wasn't a hugely helpful contribution to the debate, in my opinion. That sort of thing just makes it easier for the pro-nuclear lobby to portray all opposition as childish reactionary loons. Like this, in fact. OK, it got Greenpeace some publicity, but I'd have thought they'd have got that today anyway without pulling quite such a silly stunt. But what would I know? My idea of positive action is writing a really stroppy post. Maybe I should just "haud ma wheesht".*

Distractions aside, what has the Blair actually said? The official position is that this review is to determine the best solution and that nothing has been decided. This, despite the fact that all sorts of people have reported that Blair has made up his mind on support the building of new nuclear power plants. What to make of it?

For those who like primary sources, here's what Blair actually said on the subject.
Fifth [the previous four were about other issues], the issue back on the agenda with a vengeance is energy policy. Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency. I have no doubt where policy is heading, here, in the US, across the emerging economies of the world. I believe there will be a binding international agreement to succeed Kyoto when the Protocol expires in 2012 that will include all major economies. The future is clean energy. And nations will look to diversify out of energy dependence on one source.

We will meet the Kyoto targets but we have recently seen an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. They are projected to rise further between 2010 and 2020. By around 2020, the UK is likely to have seen decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants that together generate over 30% of today's electricity supply. Some of this will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can.

I can today announce that we have established a review of the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals. The Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks will be in the lead, with the aim of publishing a policy statement on energy in the early summer of 2006. It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations.

In Britain, on any basis, we also have the issue of our transition from being self-sufficient in gas supply to being an importer. Energy companies are making huge investments - £10 billion in total - in the infrastructure needed to import and store gas. Some of that infrastructure is already open - such as the doubling of the capacity in the interconnector from Belgium and the LNG facility at the Isle of Grain - even more will follow in the next couple of years.

But this winter, if it is as cold as the Met office suggests it may be, our gas market will be tight. For our domestic gas customers and most businesses the National Grid is clear there would not be a problem. But for big gas users, Ofgem, the National Grid, energy suppliers and the DTI have all been and will be working to make sure business is aware and ready.

If you've managed to plough through all that, well done. Not easy, is it?

Two points stuck out for me. The first:
Some of this [old plants being decommisioned] will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can. [my emphasis]
As part of my attempt to challenge my existing views on this whole debate, that seems to be one of the crucial issues.** Is there credible evidence which demonstrates that renewable energy cannot provide the necessary power? Or, has Blair made up his mind on this without seeing any conclusive evidence? Is he now claiming that renewables cannot provide our future energy needs based on nothing more than the "courage of his convictions"? It seems a reasonable question, given his form. Blair's statement does suggest that he's prejudging an issue which ought to be part of the review process he's in the middle of announcing.

The second point concerns the review itself:
It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations. [my emphasis]
I saw a chap make a similar point on Newsnight and it's a good one. That "facilitate" totally negates the free market arguments put forward to support nuclear power. There's nothing in law to stop companies putting forward plans to build nuclear power plants right now. They don't do it because it just isn't economically viable. The only way to make nuclear power viable (and profitable) is if the government "facilitates" the market. In other words, nuclear power depends on government intervention. The same could undoubtedly be said for many renewable technologies but advocates of those technologies are generally more open about the need for government intervention in the energy market. So, never let it be said that nuclear is the free market non-interventionist option. It's just not. At all.

I'm still undergoing my self-enforced agnostisism towards nuclear power so I won't make any further comment on that right now. As for the Blair, I do strongly suspect that he's has made up his mind to support nuclear power and that this review is actually mostly about selling that decision. We shall see.

And Finally
You might want to reach for your bacofoil baseball cap before you read this:
An urgent inquiry has been ordered to investigate claims that major gas suppliers have been withholding supplies to push up prices. Gas and electricity watchdog Ofgem wants to ensure that the rise in prices in recent weeks is not due to "market manipulation". It is appealing to the European Commission to investigate why the gas pipeline between Britain and the continent has not been running at full capacity when demand has soared.
*Strokes chin*

The fact thay the UK may currently be experiencing a gas shortage due to "market manipulation" is a curious coincidence, wouldn't you say? And I've already heard Malcom Wicks emphasising the gas shortage issue today. Not so long ago, he was playing that down and accusing the CBI of scaremongering. He is still saying basically the same things but there's definitely been a slight change in emphasis on gas shortages. Hmm. In all honesty, this probably really is a coincidence. Some conspiricay theories are too far fetched, even for me.

* "If ye dinna ken fit yer spikin aboot, haud yer wheest." Not sure if that's an official saying but I do know that my grandad was fond of it. Like most grandads, he was a very wise man. If your not familiar with Scottish dialects, it translates as "If you don't know what your talking about, don't speak". It's something I should probably do more of.

** More on that soon.

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