Powering a nation: A strategy for Britain’s future post Brexit
Caroline Flint MP & Lisa Nandy MP joined the Nuclear Industry Association's Chief Executive on the panel at a Labour conference fringe event, discussing how nuclear energy can play a role in rebalancing the UK economy.
The panel which comprised of: Jon Bernstein (Chair), Caroline Flint MP, Lisa Nandy MP, Tom Greatrex, chief executive at the Nuclear Industry Association and Paul Spence, director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF, talked about nuclear’s role in the future energy mix as a source of low carbon affordable energy. There was also discussion about the role the state could play in the development of large infrastructure projects and how energy could be a driver in rebalancing the UK economy.
Opening the session Caroline Flint, former shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change set the scene for the future challenges in the UK energy mix. She highlighted predictions that the UK would require 20 per cent more electricity over the next 20 years whilst a significant amount of current generation would be coming off the grid.
Flint said meeting this gap would need a mix of renewable and nuclear technologies. Turning to Hinkley Point, she said it remained to be seen whether the £92.50 /mwh would turn out to be good value for money as electricity prices feel and consumers took a big hit. However, she added that did not mean she did not support the project as it sent out the message that the UK supported nuclear energy. Nevertheless, she said there needed to be competition in the industry to further drive down prices.
Finally, Flint discussed the potential of small modular reactors to contribute to UK industrial policy. She said they were cheaper and quicker to build than large nuclear power stations, were UK owned intellectual property, 75 per cent of the supply chain was British and had great export potential.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of Nuclear Industry Association began his contribution by referencing the recent offshore wind contract for difference auctions, which he said highlighted what could be achieved in price reduction through continued investment and deployment of new technologies. He echoed the view that Hinkley was the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations so there was absolutely the potential for price drops in nuclear – be that SMRs or the big projects.
Discussing the recent NAO report he noted that it had said that one of the biggest factors on the strike price was the cost of capital. He felt Government needed to look at the best way to finance big infrastructure projects as part of their industrial policy.
Former shadow energy and climate change secretary Lisa Nandy MP said she agreed with the broad thrust of what Flint and Greatrex had said about the need for a mixed energy system to produce affordable low carbon electricity.
She said that for a party committed to tackling poverty and climate change it was necessary to have a focus on keeping bills low. Nandy highlighted that in her communities when constituents heard “climate change” they thought of bills going up and their jobs disappearing. Effectively tackling climate change needed communities to be on board, she added. She also felt there was a real potential for stabling a stronger cross party consensus on climate change.
On Hinkley she agreed with Flint and said she wanted to see better deals for nuclear energy in the future. Nandy also said that on joining the shadow cabinet she had an honest discussion about nuclear energy with Jeremy Corbyn and had found him very willing to listen to the case for the technology. She explained that nuclear energy was important for the Labour party because it was one of the best sources of well paid jobs outside of London.
Paul Spence, director of strategy and corporate affairs, EDF said the company had put a strong emphasis on contributing to the UK’s industrial stamina. He highlighted that 90 per cent of their existing supply chain was UK companies and 2/3 of the Hinkley supply chain would be UK workers.
On Hinkley he said there were now over 2000 people working on site and over the course of the project there would be 25000 jobs, £4bn worth of contracts in the South West and 1000 apprenticeship opportunities. On the strike price, he echoed Greatrex’s comments that Hinkley was the first project for 25 years and renewable technologies had shown how prices could come down. The next projects would be cheaper, he added.