U.S. News

Britain Sets Out Major Energy Policy Shake-Up


Britain on Wednesday set out plans to secure energy supplies and fight global warming, calling for new nuclear power plants, more renewable energy and greater efficiency.

Its nuclear call was met with cheers from utility companies but jeers from environmentalists, although some welcomed the emphasis on renewables.

Britain's oil and gas from the North Sea are dwindling and it is keenly aware that Russia, which supplies 40% of Europe's gas, disrupted supplies last year. It also wants to meet its carbon emission cut targets.

"If nuclear is excluded there is every chance that its place would be taken by gas and coal generation which of course emits carbon," Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling told parliament, announcing the Energy White Paper.

"I am quite clear in my mind that it is important that we have a mix of energy supply ... that we don't become overly dependent on imported gas," he added.

Darling said the new measures would save up to 33 million tonnes of carbon by 2020 -- equivalent to the emissions from every road vehicle in the country.

The government wants to triple electricity from renewable sources, boost energy efficiency and change lifestyles to cut rising electricity demand and with it carbon emissions.

The European Union aims to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and a draft law going through the British parliament calls for the country to cut emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide by 60% by 2050.

New Nuclear Generation

Prime Minister Tony Blair insists Britain needs a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace the 20% of electric power the old one provides.

But because a judge criticized the government earlier this year for failing to consult the public adequately on the nuclear issue, Darling was also on Wednesday forced to launch a 20-week full consultation process.

"The Government's endorsement of expanding nuclear power is the definition of irrational policy. Like a stool with no legs, it fails on economic, energy and environmental grounds," said Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation.

Environmental group Greenpeace, which filed the legal challenge, accused the government of tinkering with a failing energy efficiency and renewables policy "while indulging its nuclear obsession."

It said it would not hesitate to go back to court if the government did not consult fairly.

French power giant EDF welcomed the White Paper and said it and the world's largest maker of nuclear reactors Areva would ask British authorities to certify the latest "EPR" reactor.

The clock is ticking. All but one of the existing nuclear power plants are due to close by 2023 and even the most optimistic pro-nuclear lobbyists reckon it will take a minimum of 10 years to build a new plant from scratch.

Darling said a decision on new nuclear must be taken this year. He said no public money would go into new nuclear plants.

There is no clear evidence that private sector finance will be on offer for an industry that needs huge initial investment, even if it can later generate power at relatively low cost.

The Energy White Paper also promotes the development of carbon capture and storage technology -- a potential huge money spinner through exports to countries such as China and India with large coal supplies and booming energy demand.

It wants energy saving by businesses, calls for more investment in renewable technologies such as wind and waves, and backs an extension of trading in carbon emission permits.