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United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Renewables best and cheapest option -- Review team not in doubt

Renewable energy -- not nuclear -- is the best way to cut carbon emissions and replace the UK's existing coal and oil power stations, concludes an energy review commissioned by the British government. Nuclear is too expensive and too dangerous, according to the review's draft findings, leaked to the Financial Times (FT) and New Scientist magazine.

The report recommends a six-fold expansion of wind turbines on land and offshore and of wave and tidal power to produce at least 20% of electricity from renewables by 2020. It also calls for greater energy efficiency and more combined heat and power (CHP). Moreover, the review reportedly recommends removal of institutional barriers to renewables, such as the new electricity trading rules, which penalise intermittent energy sources such as wind, the high cost of connecting renewables to the grid, and the time consuming site permit process. Local authorities should meet regional targets for renewable energy and CHP, it says.

The report to Prime Minister Tony Blair by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) rules out subsidies to build a new generation of nuclear plants. New nuclear will cost £0.03- £0.045/kWh compared with £0.015-0.024/kWh for onshore wind. "Nowhere in the world have new nuclear stations yet been financed within a liberalised electricity market," states the report. It adds that nuclear has "an uncertain role", public concerns about safety "may limit or preclude its use." The cost of insuring against nuclear accidents and radioactive waste disposal should be borne by nuclear stations rather than by government, it advises. But: "There are, however, good grounds for taking a positive stance to keeping the nuclear option open."

Cost anomaly

Despite accepting that renewables and CHP are a cheaper alternative to nuclear for plugging the future energy gap, the report still estimates that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will add up to 6% on household bills, and up to 12% for commercial customers.

The PIU was due to report back to the Prime Minister by the end of 2001. He will then decide when to publish the report and how to respond to its recommendations.

The leaked document led to a flurry of news coverage in the national media. Most editorials welcome the report's advice that government should favour renewables rather than nuclear and coal -- two exceptions being the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph. The FT is concerned with the "extra cost of renewables." It accuses the PIU of timidity for failing to put nuclear on a par with renewables. Unlike wind energy which does not work on calm days, nuclear is a base load supplier, it says, and calls for targets for nuclear, and for a carbon tax to benefit both renewables and nuclear. The Daily Telegraph calls wind turbines "hideous humming triffids." To squeeze out nuclear at the expense of some of the UK's best landscapes "looks like the usual triumph of politics over common sense," it says.

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