Thursday, May 24, 2007

Private sector gets nuclear button

One thing is certain in the government’s white paper – energy production will remain in the hands of the private sector and be subject to the laws of the capitalist market. Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling has thrown up his hands in the face of future uncertainty, using this as the excuse to leave all major decisions with companies who he says “are best placed to weigh up and manage the complex range of interrelated factors affecting the economics of energy investments”. So if they can’t make a profit it won’t happen. Why private companies are better placed to take decisions than governments isn’t explained. But you couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the subordination of government to global corporations. BP immediately responded by cancelling a major investment in carbon capture and storage in Scotland. The corporation’s reason? A delay to the expected government subsidy caused by the newly-announced five-month nuclear consultation period.

Once the consultation is over, private energy companies will be invited to invest billions of pounds in new nuclear plants. But according to Greenpeace director John Sauven: “If ministers go down the nuclear route they will strangle the new, clean energy technologies of the investment and political support they need. Reaching for nuclear power to fight climate change is like an obese person taking up smoking to lose weight. It's a dangerous and expensive distraction in the fight against global warming." Just in case anyone is thinking of complaining, Darling warns that “alongside the nuclear consultation, the government is proceeding, on a contingent basis, with a range of facilitative actions to reduce regulatory and planning risks to prepare for the possibility that the government concludes that it is in public interest to allow private sector companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations.” Which, in plain English, means it’s a done deal.

Sauven is the one distracted by a government world-famous for its ways of distorting the truth. All the talk in the white paper about the need to reduce carbon emissions is little more than window dressing. There’s plenty to read about the advantages of distributed, local low-carbon energy generation (DG), but the same old uncertainty rules – or is made to rule. “It is generally believed that transmission and distribution infrastructure costs would be lower with increased DG. However, the location-specific nature of these costs means that it has not been possible to model this effectively.” Better to leave it to the private sector then. “The market is best placed to decide which technologies are most effective in supplying the UK’s energy whilst also meeting our carbon reduction goals.”

AWTW’s crash programme to halt climate chaos says:

  • return energy supply to public ownership to put an end to market-driven pricing, moving to decentralised generation of electricity and heat
  • expand investment in wind, wave, tidal and solar power and make research into non-carbon power sources a national priority
  • scrap plans for new nuclear power stations and make solar panels available free to all households where they are suitable

Join us on June 9th to discuss ways of making this happen.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

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