Greenpeace Energy White Paper talkOn May 15th 2003, the Reading Greenpeace group hosted a talk on the Energy White Paper. Jane Griffiths MP (Reading East) and Jim Footner (Greenpeace UK) both gave presentations, and then the public asked questions. Below are my notes from the meeting.
Jane Griffiths MP (Reading East), Kim Gold (chair) and Jim Footner (Greenpeace UK)
- Now is a crucial time for Renewable Energy in the UK
- Jonathon Porritt, on the Sustainable Development Committee for the Government, said that the White Paper brought Renewable Energy into the mainstream of Government for the first time
- Last year, the Government's chief scientist said we should build more nuclear power stations, and make a move towards nuclear for the future, but the DTI and Treasury both rejected his arguments
- The Government accepted that sustainable energy and sustainable development needn't be at the price of prosperity
- The White Paper came out, and gave not only good targets for carbon emission reductions and increases in Renewable Energy supplies, but outlined plans to reach those targets
- The White Paper also stated that if any new nuclear plants are to be built in the future, there will need to be another phase of public consultation and another White Paper beforehand
- The Energy Review seemed divided over nuclear energy, but there was consensus that it is a problem, not least due to a lack of public confidence in safety and waste management
- Currently, nuclear energy supplies 23% of the UK's total consumption
- All nations, regardless of their size/prosperity, need a good, constant and reliable source of energy, which requires diversity in supply
- In the past, the UK has been a net importer of energy
- When North Sea Gas runs out, estimated at 2020, the UK will be importing 75% of its energy, returning to pre-North Sea discovery levels
- Diversity requires that we have more supplies than just wind, though wind will probably be the most important supply, since the UK is the windiest nation onshore in Europe, with fairly constant supplies, and offshore we are also very windy
- Above all, Government should be aiming at diverse and sustainable energy supplies, reducing nuclear dependency and reducing carbon emissions
- The White Paper was a success for Greenpeace
- Greenpeace aren't sure why the Government changed its focus from nuclear to Renewable Energy, but they believe lobbying from organisations like Greenpeace, drawing on the lack of public confidence in nuclear, helped a lot
- The collapse of British Energy was also a big factor; the Government bailed BE out with a Â£650m loan which has since been repaid, with a restructuring package with Â£2.1bn over ten years going through the EC (because technically the Government can't provide such help to a single company under competition laws)
- The White Paper has now been Renewable Energy at the heart of Government policy
- There were good commitments on carbon emissions and measures to tackle climate change
- But was the White Paper only words? Â£65m has been pledged, but this is far too little, and a tenth of the amount given to British Energy
- There is no suggestion of the development of a British Renewable Energy industry to build turbines and develop other Renewable Energy technologies. Such an industry could take over closed down shipyards.
- But the White Paper is due to be reviewed in two years, so the nuclear is far from dead. In fact, in two years the money given to British Energy could have made them appear more competitive, which could lead to a nuclear-friendly review
- In Europe, the EU constitution is currently being drafted, and EURATOM is due to be put right into the heart of the constitution without review
- EURATOM, the European Atomic Agency, was set-up in the 1960s to promote the development of nuclear power in Europe, which was seen as a path to peace, since the development was thought to require broad cooperation
- If put into the constitution, EURATOM will have Â£48bn to give in loans to the nuclear industry
- This would mean that even if we won the domestic battle in the UK, the European battle could undermine us, flooding the UK with cheap subsidised nuclear energy
- A pro-nuclear MEP in the EU is proposing some modernisations in the nuclear industry (containment of waste centralised, implementation of EU-wide safety policies), but these will affect the UK industry little, and will only serve to legitimise the nuclear industry
Jane Griffiths replies to Jim Footner
- It is not a problem that we have no wind turbine industry, since we can import the goods from Denmark and Germany (for example)
- Planning laws need to be changed, since they currently require public enquiries for wind farms to be built, in which the farms are facing stiff opposition from locals, and in Wales from Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru, supposedly pro-Renewable Energy
- Europe won't be as big a problem as JF suggested, since the 10 new members entering the EU aren't friendly to nuclear, and have no reason to prop up, for example, France's nuclear industry; these new nations have ageing, unsafe ex-Soviet nuclear industries that they want rid of as fast as possible, and in some cases (e.g. Armenia) they have no other energy sources, so Renewable Energy could have a big future in the expanding EU
Q: Is biomass not also important, since thermal power stations burning biomass can provide a reliable output, unlike wind and solar which are intermittent?
JG: Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform provides a good opportunity for biomass, since farmers could diversify into the biomass industry
Q: Can Renewable Energy really provide 20% by 2020?
JF: Yes, and energy efficiency can close the gap, requiring the government to make moves on building methods, to achieve 'linked up policy'
Q: Why are there so many onshore developments if offshore (promoted by Greenpeace) is less controversial?
JG: Onshore is cheaper, and onshore supplies are the best in Europe, though they suffer from nimbyism
JF: Greenpeace do support onshore, though we have more offshore wind than onshore, more space offshore, and you can put bigger turbines offshore (10 miles out you can put turbines 1.5 times the height of the London Eye!), but payment is needed to upgrade the transmission network to deal with intermittent supplies
JG: This payment is covered in the White Paper
Q: If Germany, Italy and others are decomissioning their nuclear industries, why should we worry about EURATOM?
JF: Their decomissioning schemes are cunning ruses, with the processes scheduled to take up to fifty years; decomissioning also doesn't exclude them from pressuring the UK or EURATOM to favour them in the meantime
Q: Should we not also mention the terrorist threat posed by nuclear power stations?
JF: Yes! The UK has shambolic emergency planning procedures, which don't even mention terrorist threats, despite being written in 2002 (post September 11th). Though the cores are well protected, they are surrounded by temporary storage pods, which if hit by a munition smaller than a tank would spread radiation over a radius of 50 miles