Why does the UK government support nuclear power when onshore wind is so much better? | Alethea Warrington

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After Friday’s huge jump in energy costs, millions of people across the UK face a frightening future. Urgent measures are needed but, instead of acting, the cabinet is absorbed by a useless argument which wrongly opposes the crisis of the energy bill to our climate commitments. In fact, the best way to lower bills is to stop using gas for good.

We can take immediate action to stop using gas because the UK has clean energy sources that can start quickly, and are cheap and popular, including wind and solar power. But at a time when they should be powering the UK with renewables, ministers have other ideas: to suggest deepening our reliance on fossil fuels by opening up more boreholes in the UK; or working under the mistaken impression that people would rather live near a nuclear plant than a wind turbine.

The government’s standoff over onshore wind power is particularly puzzling. Onshore wind is clean, cheap and hugely popular, with the government’s own polls showing support from four in five people in the UK. Far from viewing them as an ‘awe’ as some Tory MPs and ministers worry about, a Survation poll last year found that people who live near existing wind farms are the most supportive of them all. Yet one of the main causes of the delay in the publication of the energy strategy last month seems to be the completely unfounded concern of the government that people do not like onshore wind, and their mistaken belief that removing the virtual ban on new wind projects in England would provoke huge resistance from Tory voters.

Government cut support for onshore wind in 2015 following pressure from a group of Tory MPs, some of whom have since changed their minds, left parliament or moved on to other pet peeves. The aversion to visible renewable energy projects by a fraction of Tory backbenchers has always been out of step with public opinion, which has always supported renewable energy, including onshore wind.

Just ten years ago, two-thirds of people supported onshore wind, with support steadily increasing to the 80% it is today. The British public knows that clean energy is the way out of this crisis, but, as they watch their energy bills soar and face the grim prospect of cold houses, all they can see, it is that his government hesitates and delays clean energy sources which are the easiest and fastest solution.

Instead of solving this crisis with renewables, ministers are said to be considering pursuing nuclear energy. Ministers have recently tried unsuccessfully to argue that onshore wind is too expensive, but they seem happy enough to argue for bill payers to pick up the cost of nuclear power, which is around twice as much per unit. electricity than onshore wind.

Given the urgency with which we need to clean up our energy supply and reduce our energy bills, the slow timelines of new nuclear projects risk leaving people at the mercy of gas markets for too long. Wind projects commissioned today could be operational before the end of next year, while the most recent nuclear projects, announced in 2010, will not produce energy until 2026 at the earliest. It’s no surprise that nuclear power is far less popular than onshore wind, with only a third of people believing nuclear power would be affordable and even fewer believing it’s safe.

If the government believes that new nuclear plants will be an easier sell to people than onshore wind in terms of cost or local impacts, they could suffer an unpleasant shock. Ministers who insist that the UK’s energy strategy must prioritize community consent are right. Now they must also recognize that any plan to rush an unpopular, slow and expensive source of energy, while maintaining the brakes on a clean, cheap and fast terrestrial wind, is unlikely to gain support.

It’s time for government to start listening to what people really want, which is well-placed renewable energy projects that support local people and the local environment and that communities have a say on the infrastructure in their region. The energy strategy is a vital chance to make this a reality. If the government is wrong, we will live in cold houses on a hot planet. If they succeed, this could be the last energy crisis we have ever seen.



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