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Will the lights go out after all ?
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Government may be forced to up its investment in renewable power sources and take a fresh look at energy policy in the light of recent news regarding the proposed new generation of nuclear power plants.
Will the lights go out after all ?

First French energy giant EDF cancelled plans to build a nuclear power station at Heysham in Lancashire, then German utilities RWE and E.ON scrapped their plans to build two reactors in the UK.

The initial backout by EDF prompted Louise Hutchins, head of Greenpeace’s UK energy campaign, to say “This is really no surprise. The economics of nuclear power just don’t add up, and we fully expect that EDF will cancel more of their plans to build reactors in the UK. The reactor design that EDF wants to build has already been dismissed in their home country of France as too expensive. And now we’re seeing their nuclear plans in the UK start to crumble. That’s good news for British taxpayers, who would have been forced to shell out billions of pounds to subsidise the failed nuclear industry.”

Government had envisaged nuclear power as a cornerstone of energy policy and the Horizon joint venture, co-owned by RWE and E.ON, was a key contributor due to its plans to construct new stations at Wylfa in Wales and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.

Progress on those projects halted before Easter when Horizon's owners put the business on the market, citing doubts over financing the projects and costs associated with the German government's decision to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

"A combination of these strategic factors, together with the significant ongoing costs of running the Horizon joint venture, has led to a situation where capital investment plans have been reviewed," the companies said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile Dounreay power station is celebrating the building of new rail terminal to assist in the decommissioning process, originally scheduled to be finished by 2063, but this date has now been brought forward to 2022, with some waste too radioactive to move being stored on site indefinitely. The sea bed locally is already contaminated and the Dounreay website admits this. Issues regarding the disposal of waste are still just as much a concern as ever, and naturally each new station will add to the pile.

So is the answer to be found in saving energy rather than generating it ? Theoretically yes, but even here there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm, the planned Green Deal, intended as a “a once-and-for-all refit”, making “every home in Britain ready for a low-carbon future” still has a question mark hanging over it.

Many in the industry fear demand will be low, says Emily Gosden in the Telegraph – leaving consumers in draughty homes with energy bills rising ever more steeply. Their concerns are informed by the recent experience of the Big Six suppliers in promoting efficiency to try to meet Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets (CERT) – under the threat of fines if they do not. Insulation has been given away heavily subsidised, or even for free.

Sara Vaughan, E.ON’s director of energy policy, says that while the supplier expects to meet its CERT obligation, “the low-hanging fruit has been picked so it is more difficult to get the remaining consumers to sign up for insulation”.

A source close to one major supplier is reported as saying: “The biggest question mark is still the idea that people will take out fin­ance arrangements for some of these things when you can’t give them away for free.”

Ministers hoped demand could be bolstered by enlisting retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco as Green Deal providers. But eyebrows were raised last week when ministers signed a “watershed” memorandum of under­standing with 22 providers; absent from the list were not only those retailers, but also three of the Big Six energy suppliers.

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