Mixed reaction to green light for Hinkley Point C

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to give the green light for the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset has received a mixed reaction.

In August French company EDF, which is financing most of the £18bn project, decided to go ahead with it but in a surprise move the UK Government said it wanted time to review the scheme given its scale.

Former energy minister Tom Greatrex, now Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, welcomed May’s decision last week.
“The benefits of nuclear power are clear and the Government, trade unions, industry and energy experts are right that it is an important part of the UK’s energy mix,” he said.

“Hinkley will be the first to get shovels in the ground, but we need to secure our energy future and bring more low carbon power to the grid.”

Josh Hardie, Deputy Director-General at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), echoed Greatrex’s enthusiasm

“Investors are hungry for further signs from the Government that the UK is open for business,” Hardie added.

“Pressing ahead with major infrastructure decisions – such as giving clarity to around the next Contracts for Difference auction and the post-2020 Levy Control Framework, and expanding runway capacity in the South East – would give a real boost to their confidence in the UK in the long-run.”

23GW of solar at half the price

But the renewable energy industry questioned the wisdom of backing the Hinkley project.

Analysis carried out by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) showed that, for the equivalent anticipated annual power output of Hinkley, more than 23GW of solar capacity could be installed at less than half the National Audit Office’s projected cost to the public, based on lifetime costs for Hinkley of £29.7 billion.

Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the REA, said: “Renewables such as solar, onshore wind and biomass are already cheaper than nuclear, are quicker to deploy, and have none of the construction or economic risk.

“From the time Hinkley was proposed to now we’ve seen extraordinary advancements in technology, falling costs, and high deployment rates.
“Since the project’s initial consultation in 2008 the UK has gone from producing less than 6% of its electricity from renewables to more than 25% in the first quarter of 2016.”

David Elmes, Head of the Global Energy Research Network at Warwick Business School, added: “The choices the UK has for the supply and use of energy have changed considerably since this deal was first conceived.
“We need a serious discussion of cost effective opportunities that offer as much or a greater contribution to the UK economy so we’re not boxed in to such a decision again.”

Outrage from environmental groups

Environmental groups lined up to criticise the decision.

John Sauven, Executive Director at Greenpeace, said: “There are still huge outstanding financial, legal and technical obstacles that can’t be brushed under the carpet.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Director, Richard Dixon, added: “We should instead investing in renewables and energy efficiency that can provide the safe, flexible, decentralised energy we need now and in the future.

“Going for green energy would be cheaper, faster and safer than continuing to chase the nuclear dream.”

> Read the UK Government's announcement