9 months have passed since the consultation response deadline, and the promise that EDF Sizewell would report back on things they agreed with and things they would not do in response to the consultation. End summer saw a slight delay, with Councillors likely to get a September preview before the public was told what the original 3,000 respondents - now revised to 1000 - actually said. The number difference is apparently between people who visited exhibitions and those who actually submitted views - including SAGE. Anyone curious to know who said what will likely be frustrated: certainly the submissions will not be published, but TASC and SAGE and others have collected up the main ones from organisations in any case. TASC may get glimpses when it meets the Joint Local Authority Group coordinating with EDF at the end of October. EDF have naturally been asked about the likely timing of the third and final draft proposal, before it is done and dusted and submitted to the Bristol Infrastructure planners. Some time next year was the impression given. On past form, some slippage can be expected to say the least. There is so much uncertainty about EDF itself, about government policy and energy politics.
Two of the many contentious issues - the siting of the worker campus and the four villages' bypass - have seen Suffolk and Suffolk East councillors scurrying to spend council tax monies to help EDF out (see next).
One of the big public issues concerns the siting of the worker hostel/campus between the Sizewell C site and Leiston. The second is the four villages bypass, now renamed the Suffolk Energy Gateway. Shades here of Esssex University's welcoming - and triumphal ? - archway flagging its "Knowledge Gateway"? (see next).
A campus siting report has been done at citizens'expense looking at different sites for less large hostel/campus facilities, but its seems they mainly still cluster around Leiston (to avoid making traffic levels even worse, no doubt). But how this clustering will reduce the virtual doubling of Leiston's natural population and concentrated social problems remains to be explained.
The new study proposal for the four villages' bypass of the A12 is a much changed version of two previous proposals. It consists in two routes both to the east of the A12, instead of criss-crossing it as previously proposed, starting as the dual carriageway runs out just beyond Wickham Market and ending just where the Saxmunden bypass becomes dual carriageway. Single carriageway - not much use for high volumes of lorries and cars and only a formality - would cost £50m, dual almost double. That's a mere £25m per mile. A proposal aimed to get into the government funding pot for 2020-25, it might not emerge even if there were any money and not lots and lots of competing projects - A12 south of Ipswich, A14 hotspots, etc. Certainly Suffolk County does not have the money, and since the A12 is not now a national government "trunk" road, which other parts of the southern A12 and A14 are, Suffolk would need to fork out a lot. Already questions are being raised about the impact on the water meadows which the old criss-cross routes tried to avoid. Also, big landowner estates on the west side are now avoided, but there may be issues from those on the east side. Third, is there some cunning in calling the proposal - just an outline so far - in joining it up where the old D2 new road proposal would start below Saxmunden, going across country, north of Leiston and to the site ? And finally, cunning too in giving it all a new name and maybe avoiding the Grampian road construction ruling that roads have to be in place before developments start ? EDF stated, before the new 4 villages proposal, that it might help with half the cost of a two villages bypass. Has the project changed so much that this EDF offer now won't apply ? Consultation is pretty shoddy, maps vague: find on Suffolk CC.
Energy Minister Greg Clark has indicated that any more new nuclear power stations will have to come at a strike price lower than Hinkley C at £92.50 inflation proofed for 35 years from 2012 (as we understand this amazing formula). £80 was indicated, this being about a sixth lower, but still £30 above the relatively stable wholesale price on the electricity market run by the National Grid. No clarity about how Sizewell might fair here, but the EU Commission said it should be £89.50. A reduction to £80 might look big, but there are other factors at play. The Government has ended its renewables support scheme of ROCS ( renewable obligations certificates) which excluded nuclear which also pays the Climate Change Levy. The post ROCs scheme is, in fact, the strike price regime which now counts nuclear as eligible since it is, they claim, low carbon. So the change to strike prices (Contracts for Difference) will give a new general subsidy to nuclear to offset the CCL levy. SAGE will be looking at the arithmetic. EDF stating publically that their costs will have to come down significantly may therefore be part of a sleight of hand, posing like a realistic reflection of EDF's overall woes. But there are also contrary indications.
At the Tory Party conference, New Junior Energy Minister Richard Harrington told a fringe meeting the complex funding arrangements for Hinkley C were likely to be scrapped and a new third model be developed, between direct state funding and the EDF strike price model. He said don't ask what the new model might be (Telegraph 3.10.17).
His boss Industry Secretary Greg Clark had set the scene out in the summer when he waxed eloquent about the UK being " on the verge of an energy revolution". He unveiled plans for battery research (see below) and a "new and more flexible energy system". In September, National Grid released figures showing the UK's "greenest ever" year, with nearly 52% of electricity coming from "low carbon" sources compared to 35% in 2013. Maybe it just means a specific strike price won't be agreed, but a general strike price regime will apply. The new Contracts for Difference papers were published in November last year, using offshore wind farms as an example. The first subsidy free solar farm in the UK has opened (see below).
Another element in the energy bill issue has surfaced. It's EDF again. Telegraph (19.9.17) reports that European energy prices have been forced up by the faulty parts crisis in EDF's French nuclear power stations, subject to lengthy inspections and some shutdowns. This led to energy market speculation on higher energy costs, and combines with higher world coal prices. Germany 's high coal dependency and imports of French nuclear will hoist their prices, while French wholesale prices have already risen 34% since the EDF reactor parts crisis. The UK knock on is expected to be £7 per mwh (megawatthour), i.e. a 16% rise on the current average of £45 to £50. French nuclear safety fears "spooked" the market said a power market expert.
Round-up: Rolls Royce & mini reactors, big battery news, smart grids and exorbitant new Hinkley grid....
The Telegraph - again - says (23.10.17) that a design contract from the UK government is likely to be won by a Rolls Royce led consortium for a new generation of mini nuclear reactors. Rolls and General Electric of the USA - and the Russians - are world leaders in nuclear powered submarine "engines". Government has made positive noises about mini-reactors based on the submarine design and size. A year or so ago it gave around £150m for a new nuclear skills centre to be set up, thought to be to do with so-called mini nuclear reactors. These are believed to be more flexible than the huge EPRs, but they have similar risks and problems, being killed off for civil use - the Canadian deuterium reactors were an early credible example - in the 80s by the big reactors which are now double the power of the original Magnox and PWRs reactors. Nuclear submarine reactors produce at most a few hundred megwatts of power compared to the proposed Hinkley EPRs at 1,600 megawatts.
Government is also backing big storage battery technology with a £245m fund linked to a smarter grid. The smart grid concept contrasts with a recent National Grid & Hinkley C story.
OFGEM, the energy regulator, has sharply criticised the National Grid ( a very profitable privatised company, of course) for putting up an estimate for an uprated grid connection for Hinkley C (2 EPR reactors of a total 3,200 MW capacity) of £840 million. 30 miles of new high voltage cable are needed, going through the Mendip Hills. National Grid want to use their new T-pylon design too.
Financial control and contract specification problems with a UK/American consortium which is " cleaning up " the UK's first generation Magnox nuclear power stations have led to an apparent decision to bring these massive works back "in-house" to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The £6.2bn outsourced contract showed fundamental failures, and while no decision has yet been made, experts say the most likely outcome is a new subsidiary for the NDA. Truly, if the UK/USA contractors have failed, there is no-one else to do the work. We pay for it all in pay case - its just a case of "value for money" ! (FT 15.10.17).
Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has been told by top civil servants dealing with the negotiations to agree a price for Hinkley C that if the strike price of £92.50 had been pushed lower, the deal would have collapsed. (Bristol News 10.10.17). So it looks like EDF couldn't afford to go lower, and the UK was desperate. Incidentally, the strike price is inflation proofed, and Hinkley costs are based on 2012. We calculate the strike price should now be £103.50, up 10% in 5 years. The total cost, which the European Commission put at £24 billion (old prices too) would now be maybe £26 bn. EDF have admitted the costs have risen, now put variously at £18 and £20bn. The public subsidy cost has been put at £30bn over a lifetime's operation.
Thanks to the Anglian (29.09.17) for the interview with new EDF UK project chief Humphrey Cadoux Hudson. He has confirmed that Sizewell will get the same EPR as Hinkley, while oddly to some observers, the joint effort with China's CGN at Bradwell will get the Chinese Hualong reactor CPR1000, a smaller PWR and based on the older Sizewell B design. EDF and CGN have been cooperating for 30 years. The question arises: if its true that' the Hualong is a " better" reactor, why land Sizewell with the expensive, still not actually working anywhere and obviously very expensive EPR? There are signals in France too: the French state has just become the world's biggest renewable bond issuer in the growing green bond market. €7 billion raised, reports the Financial Times (26.09.17). And France will reduce its nuclear share from 75% to 50%. Not much a market for the EPR there, surely. Only Flammanville waiting to be completed, well above cost and much delayed.
Because, it is understood, the EPR at Flammanville actually needs to be up and running by 2019 to meet a condition of the Mrs May review of Hinkley C, EDF is reported to be going slow on the other big EPR project in Finland were there are time and cost overruns and a financial dispute. That's upset the Finns. Flammanville has apparently been finished as construction, but has to be tested, always a critical time for nuclear plants.
Visiting the Hunterston nuclear power station in West Scotland on his retirement tour, EDF chief Vincent de Rivaz said "walking round this plant I was very moved". "Everything was tidy, spotless, magnificent. It was beautiful". (Telegraph 23.9.17). He hands over to Simone Rossi whose job is complete Hinkley C by 2025.
Six EDF (former Areva) reactors might be built for India, more likely now that Toshiba (Japan/US) has collapsed as a nuclear plant producer and can't supply the original order for six reactors. The start date for EDF has however been delayed from 2017, and a contract still has to be signed. (Reuters 8.10.17)
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, formerly very pro nuclear revival, has called for government to reconsider its commitment to nuclear energy after the record low costs achieved by offshore wind projects. A "radical reappraisal" is needed he stated. Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, asked on television about cancelling Hinkley C if he came to power said he would do so if it hadn't already started. Otherwise Labour remains in favour of a balanced energy policy and diversity of sourcing, but when it is considered that the Blair government started the drive for a third generation nuclear renaissance, the "direction of travel" of Labour is encouraging. This has to be set in context too: apparently opinion polls are showing that 70% of electors support in general Labour's proposal to take energy back into public ownership. Would EDF get its money back ? That would really stir the energy policy pudding !
Good to know the lights won't go out as coal stations close down and coal imports drop off in future years. The transition is being managed by a so-called "capacity market" which has been created by government to give a subsidy for reserve plants to come on stream if a bad winter occurs. Auctioned with hundreds of bidders including EDF in several guises, the auction price comes out at £7 per megawatthour. £7 extra for a few hundred suppliers will cost up to £750m over 5 years apparently. This latest round (Spring 2017) costs £290m. The subsidy is worth 14% extra to operators on average wholesale prices. But the facts of life are that the biggest bidders are gas and coal, not good for CO2 reduction. Incidentally, this scheme started in 2014, when top politicians were still saying the lights would go out and we therefore needed new nuclear, which, of course, is extremely unlikely to happen till the late 2020s.
The recent offshore windfarm strike price auction saw North Sea projects get support: two big ones reached a "tipping point" wholesale price of £57.50, one for Denmark's DONG company at Hornsea and the other for Spain's EDP at Moray. Another big scheme, by Germany's Innogy, off Lincolnshire, was agreed at £74.75. The Government fund allocated £240m, but the auction cost was only £176m. Some £557m is allocated for the next round. The higher price was for earlier completion in 2021/2, the lowest prices for the two other schemes were for completion 2022/3. The total output for these three projects is 3.2 GW, the same as Hinkley C. Meanwhile in Germany some offshore wind farms are being started without a strike price subsidy at all (Guardian11.9.21). Overall offshore wind prices have fallen by a third in 5 years, and 50% measured from 2015 to today - i.e. the price reduction is speeding up and now rivalling gas prices. Offshore prices show no sign of changing direction given that bigger blades and better turbines are being developed for similar costs.
Sweden's state-owned power company, a major force in European energy development, has announced two new offshore wind farms on a scale larger than the biggest known nuclear reactor. Called Vanguard and, for next year, Boreas, they will generate 1.8 Gigawatts each, compared to a single EPR of 1,600. This is approximately 10% of current UK electricity demand. They will be 47 miles off the Norfolk Coast. Who gets the power is anither matter.
Despite the successes of offshore wind power around the UK, Europe's most windy country, and extensive farms in Northern Europe, solar power is the cheap, reliable global solution, especially in association with battery storage systems to the cheapness and abundance of coal. Near Flitwick in Bedfordshire a breakthrough is being made with a massive new solar farm backed by batteries. It will generate 10 Megwatts, enough for 2,500 homes, and will be entirely subsidy free.
While the UK may have ended its coal era, with a bit of open cast and, we think, still just one mine operating, we are still importing vast amounts of coal, and the world is consuming huge amounts too. But solar panel prices have fallen dramatically, to the point where President Trump is being asked to slap a big tariff on imports from China. The USA's solar imports surged 500% in just four years to 2016, alongside the shale oil boom. Germany's politics has got interesting too: nuclear is still being phased out, but Greens in the Merkel coalition want all coal use finished by 2030 and 100% renewables by 2050. Now that's more like an up to date energy policy. But note: the big sea based wind farms and big solar schemes tend to be foreign firm led. Same's true of new nuclear: EDF France, CGN China, Tepco Japan, Kepco Korea etc.
Much vaunting of works proceeding at Hinkley C site, but it could well be that it is just estate roadways and necessary earthworks, plus new cooling water pipes into the sea. This is how the radioactive sludge issue came to light. Tim Deere Jones, who gave a Suffolk FOE talk some time ago, is a consultant expert on the radioactive mud. There's 300,000 tons of it. Deere-Jones has warned that the sediment, one mile off Cardiff, could be re-concentrated by tidal and weather forces with radio active sea spray and aerosols coming on to the land. And interestingly you can't blame Hinkley B. It seems the deposits come from Hinkley A which produced nuclear waste used to make plutonium for UK and American nuclear weapons. The dredging licence, incidentally, goes back 2013. EDF now need the sludge removing so they can get barges into Hinkley Point for the new C power station. There is a petition form on SomeOfUs.org.
A High Court challenge to a Government decision to remove the legal costs caps on environmental cases has been won. It is has restored the UN's Aaarhus Convention requirement that environment issues should be accessible to affordable litigation. Taken by FOE, the RSPB and Client Earth, celebrated for their struggles about air pollution in London, the decision restores a £5000 cost cap for individuals and £10,000 for organisations (subject to means) for taking judicial reviews. Client Earth are going full out on air pollution with a third legal challenge about air pollution measures after the Government responded to their second legal defeat by passing the buck to local authorities, who of course have no money or even the necessary powers for restricting polluting traffic. Meanwhile bad news for the European precautionary principle which the Government's Brexit process leaves out of Schedule 1 of the Withdrawal Bill. It also leaves out the polluter pays principle, so this is another campaign to be supported. The opposition is run by Greener UK, a broad coalition of campaign groups.