After being asked a Holyrood question Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary were gathered. Michael MathesonHis feelings were clear.
“Nuclear power is a bad deal for consumers,” he told MSPs, adding focusing on energy sources like windfarms would be a priority for his government.
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It is a clear statement of position. If the nationalists object nuclear energy because it increases consumer costs or hinders the path to cleaner environments, they will have analyzed the science and data before making this claim. It is not unusual for it not to.
However, I came to a completely different conclusion.
Matheson claimed that nuclear power has pushed up energy bills. He also claimed that the cost of energy from Somerset’s Hinkley C plant had risen 25% since 2016. He stated that by 2030, that plant alone will have added almost £40 a year to the bill of the average householder in the UK.
Both assertions are false.
His first point is that the 25 percent hike Mr Matheson seems to be referring to is a construction cost that will only be paid by EDF owners and not the billpayer. The price of electricity from Hinkley to the taxpayer was fixed in 2013 under a Contract for Difference – it cannot rise.
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On the second, the gas crisis and low wind meant that the price of electricity from this August has been about £180/MWh – twice the £92.50/MWh deal struck for nuclear power from Hinkley C in 2013. These conditions will continue until 2030 and there will be more nuclear retirements and demand for power. Hinkley Point C would return money to the taxpayer if these conditions persist.
It appears that Hinkley’s contribution may help to keep bills down by 2030.
It is worth noting, too, that our current nuclear stations provide the most reliable and cost-effective source of clean electricity. Power from Hunterston B and Torness in the autumn of 2021 was £45/MWh – steady, predictable and affordable. Hunterston saved consumers £360 million since the energy crisis began, equivalent to £152 for every Scottish household.
This is how the SNP and Greens ought to be viewing the cost of energy. Then there’s the reliability argument for challenging the Cabinet Secretary’s rhetoric.
When the wind stops blowing, it causes turbines to become temporarily obsolete. It also results in a tremendous cost to taxpayers.
This can trigger payouts of hundreds of million of pounds from the public purse for energy companies. One reason the energy price crisis occurred was because it wasn’t windy enough in 2021.
Thanks to the Scottish government’s recent positioning on North Sea oil and gas, which could effectively throw 100,000 jobs under a bus, we are ever-more reliant on gas, imported from countries with less robust environmental and regulatory regimes.
Nuclear power stations don’t have these issues, and these substantial hidden costs can therefore be averted.
They can provide stability to a grid that, as has been repeatedly shown, cannot rely on renewable energy alone.
Every government would be interested in exploring a mixed-source solution that allows nuclear and renewable energy to co-exist happily and usefully.
It’s good enough for France and Sweden. They happen to have lower emissions than countries like Germany, which is shunning nuclear energy in favour of coal-power stations, which the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t appreciate.
So if the priority is reducing carbon emissions, surely nuclear has an obvious role in generating a significant proportion of the country’s power while not pumping emissions into the air.
The Scottish Conservatives recognise the benefits of a technology which will keep bills down, provides security of supply when the wind doesn’t blow or gas requires to be imported, has carbon emissions, post-installation, roughly equivalent to that of wind generated power, and can support thousands of Scottish jobs.
Indeed, the UK’s Climate Change Committee suggests more than a third of electricity should come from reliable sources like nuclear.
It ought to be another constituent part of Scotland’s energy future. It is also important to note that no one suggests building a nuclear plant in every region of the country.
Any new strategy must be carefully and sensitively implemented. This would require a more cautious approach than the one we have seen from the SNP regarding onshore windfarms. Again, these are clearly and absolutely part of the solution to the UK’s future energy needs.
There are many examples of SNP ministers pushing through large projects despite local residents, local business owners, and local elected representatives claiming they are not suitable.
The SNP is happy to build windfarms because it fits its dogmatic, blinkered and divisive approach towards energy production. This seems to be more rooted than in student politics and virtue signalling.
This explains their stance towards nuclear. It’s nothing to do with the evidence on consumer costs or green credentials.
The nationalists simply don’t like following the science and doing the analysis. What they do like is conflating nuclear power with a nuclear deterrent because they think that that’s what the public do. And making sure that where “Westminster” is in favour of something, the SNP are against.
It’s classic SNP behaviour, playing to an imagined gallery rather than cold, hard reality. Ironically, their success will only drive up Scots’ energy bills and hamper our progress towards a Net-zero future.
Liam Kerr is a Scottish Conservative MP for North East Scotland and Shadow Minister for Net Zero Energy and Transport.