Kate Mackenzie How soon will the UK get its new energy policies?


Sites identified as suitable for nuclear power plants. Source: DECC

The UK government has published its long-awaited national policy statement drafts on electricity supply for the next two decades. The key point was the naming of 10 sites as suitable for nuclear power stations, most of them near existing or decommissioned plants. Industry seems keen on this (after all they suggested the sites) and even the opposition’s strongest criticism was that it was years too late.

This is not something to be taken lightly, however. Many of the UK’s existing nuclear, and some coal plants, will become too old to keep working, while cumbersome and slow planning approval has held up development of both renewables and fossil fuelled plants (nuclear has, in addition, its own specific political and financial problems). This has been a pressing concern for years now. The government’s goal to increase the supply of energy from renewables and address energy security concerns (namely, importing gas from Russia) makes it even more challenging. The big question now is whether the policy statements will make it into law before next year’s national election, which will very likely bring in a new government that may want to set about doing things its own way, creating more delays.

This from a press release from Ernst & Young’s power and utilities partner, Tony Ward:

The key now is the ratification process; it is imperative to get these statements finalised and passed through parliament as soon as possible, while allowing sufficient time for public consultation and challenge. It is also likely that the ratification process will happen very close to or even after the general election so there is still a way to go before these statements are set in stone.

This is a positive step and significant milestone, however, it is important to remember that this is only one step on a longer journey to getting the NPS fully ratified. Only then can energy companies plan with confidence for the future.

The problem is, new sources of energy take time – particularly nuclear, which is expected to provide 30 per cent of the UK’s power by the late 2020s. And as industry types and observers alike have warned, the shortfall might occur as early as mid-next decade.

Related links:

Milliband unveils nuclear strategy (FT, 09/09/09)
The farewell of dirty coal UK coal plants comes at a price (FT Energy Source, 25/08/09)