UK: Planning Act Blog: 165: Chris Huhne Determined to Deliver Nuclear Power

Last Updated: 16 September 2010
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 165, first published on 16 September 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on yesterday's appearance by Chris Huhne before the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was quizzed by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee yesterday.  Video of the proceedings can be seen here - the written transcript will take a week or two to be published.  Although the subjects to be covered included national policy statements and new nuclear power stations, this only took up a few minutes at the end of the two-hour session.  Here is a report of that and the other matters discussed.

Chris Huhne certainly seems to have mastered his brief and kept talking for most of the two hours.  The only time he was unable to answer was when Philip Lee asked if we were pursuing the use of thorium (and thereby 'leapfrogging the French', one possibly unintended moment of humour during the session).

The committee did not give him a hard time, the only somewhat challenging questions came from Albert Owen, Labour MP for Ynys Mon, which hosts one of the proposed new nuclear power stations at Wylfa (which he supports).

General Energy Discussion

Chris Huhne was asked if he would raise the renewable energy target (of 15% of all energy consumption by 2020) and he said that he agreed with last week's report by the Committee on Climate Change that it should neither be raised nor lowered, although later he said he was in talks with his French and German counterparts about raising it.

There was a lot of discussion about the 'green deal' in the forthcoming Energy Bill, which would generally save money for householders who adopted green energy measures (but not guaranteed, as someone might 'marry a Brazilian who wanted the heating turned up during the winter', for example).

He was asked what plan B was if nuclear and renewables did not develop fast enough to fill the expected 2017 energy gap, when older power stations would start going out of commission.  He said that the 'big six' energy companies would be able to put up a new gas-fired power station at short notice (18 months) if necessary.  He said that he thought the renewable energy challenge was harder to meet than the energy gap.

In that regard he commended DECC's 2050 energy calculator, which allows members of the public to play around with different energy mix scenarios and see what could happen by 2050. The calculator can be found here.

National Policy Statements and NSIPs

The only mention of national policy statements (NPSs) (or national planning statements, as he - and the coalition agreement - called them) was after 1 hour 55 minutes, when they just got a mention in passing as forthcoming.

Other than nuclear power stations and offshore windfarms, the latter of which he expressed concern about their financing and delivery, the only nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) that was mentioned was gas storage, which would be increased to avoid emergency imports being necessary, although Norway was being helpful in that regard.

He said that the process of developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) was progressing and that he was hoping there would be a demonstration project for a gas-fired power station as well as a coal-fired one.

Nuclear Power

He seemed to have learnt his line on new nuclear power stations as he repeated it about three times in almost identical terms.  The coalition deal was a deal (to provide new nuclear power) and he would deliver on it.  This meant there would be no obstacles and he would facilitate their development as fast as possible.  The nuclear power companies had told him that they could work with him (despite being from a party that opposes nuclear power).

When asked if he would vote for nuclear power stations, he said that he would stick to the coalition agreement (i.e. abstain on a vote - the wording actually prevents Lib Dem MPs voting for as well asa against nuclear power) but still deliver them.  Whether there actually would need to be a vote on a particular project is debatable, although there will be one on the Nuclear Power NPS.

He was asked what 'subsidy' meant (in terms of there being no government subsidy for nuclear power stations).  He replied that anything could be regarded as a subsidy but the test would be whether it was a subsidy that was specific to the nuclear industry.  General subsidies in the field of energy would not count as a nuclear subsidy as far as the ban was concerned.

He was asked if the design assessments for the new power stations were behind schedule (no doubt prompted by this story in the Guardian last month), but he replied that he thought they were 'on course'.

We also learnt that nuclear decommissioning accounts for nearly half of the department's budget (not 80% as was put to him), making potential cuts to the rest more keenly felt.

That about sums up the news from 'the happening department', as its Secretary of State described it.  Not a great deal of new information, but a resolve to deliver new nuclear power and consciousness-raising green measures in November's Energy Bill stood out.

Previous entry 164: Thames Tunnel sites revealed and consultation launched

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