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Coalition agrees to disagree on nuclear

Engineers have urged the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government to bury differences on nuclear power and develop a deliverable energy policy.

New prime minister David Cameron has appointed Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne as energy secretary, although the Liberal Democrats oppose the Conservatives’ policy of building new nuclear power stations.

The new coalition is to encourage household energy efficiency and offshore renewables. It will also develop a floor price for carbon in a bid to encourage emissions reduction and the development of nuclear and renewable energy projects. There are also plans to develop a high tech, energy efficient power grid or smart grid.

But the two parties have agreed to differ on nuclear energy policy.

The Liberal Democrats will abstain from parliamentary votes relating to the development of the nuclear power programme.

The two parties have agreed that Liberal Democrat MPs can speak against nuclear national policy statements in the House of Commons, but then abstain from any vote. This would put final approval of nuclear national policy statements in the hands of Labour, which has long been in favour of new nuclear.

New nuclear giant EDF said the coalition’s plans would be good for energy development. “We welcome this commitment on the national policy statements and we look forward to a positive parliamentary vote at an early date,” said EDF chief executive Vincent de Rivaz.

“The coalition Government also committed to ‘the provision of a floor price for carbon’. This commitment is an important part of the future investment framework to encourage low carbon generation. We believe nuclear power is the most affordable low carbon option and can be built in the UK without subsidy. It is a vital element in keeping energy prices affordable while tackling climate change.

Mott MacDonald energy director Simon Harrison was encouraged by the new coalition’s priorities, saying it was very positive. “Getting the right thinking on energy efficiency at the heart of policy has had insufficient attention for a long time,” he said.

“However the scale of the overall energy security and decarbonisation challenge is enormous, and deploying energy efficiency, home insulation and similar programmes at national scale will take several electoral cycles.”

But Harrison urged anti-nuclear Huhne to reconsider all of the engineering aspects of nuclear power when implementing government policy.

“Time is running out for an over optimistic approach to this - we need to plan for reasonably achievable outcomes and be able to cope with things not going to plan,” he said.

Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke said the new set of policies gave the engineering sector a great opportunity. “The UK needs to capitalise on its engineering excellence and the technical challenges that a low carbon economy will present. It gives our industry the perfect opportunity to show we can deliver real change,” he said.

“The proposal for a floor price for carbon is interesting as it has the potential to drive innovation in the design process and lead us into areas of exploration that we may be comparing with the path followed by our Victorian forefathers such as Brunel and Telford.

“The commitment to a smart grid, the expansion of the nuclear and renewable energy sector represent a forward-thinking agenda that will position the UK as world-leading,” he said.

The UK needs to capitalise on its engineering excellence and the technical challenges that a low carbon economy will present gives our industry the perfect opportunity to show we can deliver real change.

The Conservatives’ pledge to push for new gas fired power stations is not mentioned in the coalition’s agreement but there will be the: “full establishment” of feed-in tariffs for renewables which will earn renewables firms a premium for electricity put into the national grid.

The coalition also said it would also accelerate funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration plants as the Conservatives pledged.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Barry Walton

    Thomas Telford was hardly a Victorian forefather. While the young Queen-to-be was alive before his demise in 1834, she did not take up the throne until 1837. Telford's lifetime Royals were George II, George III, George IV and William IV.
    B Walton (F)

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