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Renewables lobby questions economics behind Wylfa Newydd nuclear investment

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The UK’s renewables lobby has scrutinised the government’s decision to directly invest billions of pounds in Hitachi’s proposed nuclear project, suggesting renewables to be a far cheaper and quicker way of decarbonising the country’s power.

Yesterday energy secretary Greg Clark confirmed to parliament that the government had entered into negotiations with Hitachi’s nuclear unit Horizon Nuclear Power over the proposed development of a 2.9GW nuclear facility in north Wales.

But rather than leave the development risk with third parties like it has with Hinkley Point C and EDF, the government is discussing the prospect of directly investing billions of pounds into the project in what constitutes a significant U-turn in government policy.

Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, responded to the news by stating that the government needed to “carefully consider” the value for money argument before intervening. 

“Hitachi’s struggles to fund the project privately represent one of the great challenges facing the nuclear industry, that it is highly complex and costly to design, build, operate and maintain a nuclear power station,” she said.

Furthermore, Skorupska added that as the cost of renewables like solar and wind continues to fall, they stand to be better suited to the wider nuances the energy transition presents.

“The costs of renewables are falling all the time whilst the clean technology sector continues to set records for generation, it is much quicker and cheaper to build an energy from waste, solar, wind or biomass plant than continue to pursue nuclear investment. Research shows that in the future the inflexible properties of nuclear will also become a liability to the system rather than an asset as it cannot respond quickly enough to changes in demand and supply on the system.”

Some of the debate has switched to the number of jobs in the energy and engineering sectors, with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Matt Rooney lauding Wylfa’s potential to create hundreds of high-skilled jobs.

“It would also bolster the long-term outlook for the nuclear manufacturing supply chain in the UK. This is especially important following the decision to leave the European Union, and the potential loss of access to the single market for nuclear [goods] and services,” Rooney said.

That point was also picked up by Justin Bowden, national secretary for energy at trade union GMB, who added that the decision meant a “huge boost” to the economy.

However Bowden also sought to draw the wider clean energy transition into the debate, arguing that it was “facts, not the hype” that should determine energy policy.

“If we are to address the reality of climate change - whilst keeping our country’s lights turned on, our homes heated and our economy working - then we have to face up to the fact that we need a mix of energy which combines renewable sources, like wind and solar, with the reliable base load electricity capacity that comes from zero carbon nuclear and lower carbon gas.

“That wind and solar are intermittent shouldn’t be a point of contention, quite the contrary, but a reason why base load zero carbon nuclear and lower carbon gas energy sources are essential for a balanced and secure low emissions future,” Bowden said.

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