The November edition of Workers described the energy crisis facing Britain as “an energy investment strike produced by greedy monopolies, stupid governments, abdication of responsibility and lack of planning.” In an attempt to buy its way out of crisis the government has now announced a £20 billion nuclear power construction programme with a consortium led by Hitachi, a Japanese company.
In 2008 the construction programme had been touted at almost half that, some £11 billion. Hitachi will be guaranteed a fixed rate of return, estimated at double the present wholesale power price for at least 20 years after construction ends and the stations are commissioned.
It takes at least ten years to build a new power station, so as in PFI deals the Hitachi consortium will have a licence to print money for years to come. Probably more in the case of Hitachi, since the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor technology it uses is not yet approved for use in Britain – and the assessment process can take up to four years.
If it takes ten years to build a power station, how will that assist the predicted generating capacity gap of 2015? It won’t – hence the government’s dash for gas generation as a short term hugely profitable alternative.
Where will these jobs be created? Mainly abroad, with Britain acting solely as a construction site bolting together an imported, finished kit. A similar parallel is to be found in the construction of wind farm turbines, mainly constructed in Denmark and Germany, with one British manufacturer, Vestas Blades on the Isle of Wight, closing in 2009.
A further example of the energy investment strike can be seen in Shell and Esso’s decision to establish eight new wells in the North Sea oil and gas fields to increase gas production by 5 per cent and oil by 35,000 barrels a day by 2015. Why an investment strike? Because the decision has only been taken after the government retreated over tax regulations, and the tax breaks will fund the project.
The whole business around new nuclear construction, which is necessary and long overdue, is tainted with last-minute panic decision-making, epitomised by politicians of all parties having sat on their hands for the past ten years.
The chaos caused by governments committed to European Union directives that dictate British energy policy has led to the disease of wind turbines spreading willy nilly across Britain’s landscape. This is all in the name of meeting phoney carbon emission reductions by 2027, and the policy will unravel as power cuts loom during 2015 and onwards.
Further importing of gas will bridge the gap, but it will be expensive to consumers and hugely profitable to the energy multinationals. Yet again, proof that there is no national energy plan, no self-sufficiency in energy and no security of supply. All these three points flow from the lack of national sovereignty over energy and the absence of control over basic rights such as access to light and heat. ■