Monday, January 16, 2006

Amicus no longer the worker's friend

Someone has got to Derek Simpson, General Secretary of Amicus, who has come out in favour of nuclear power.

If Derek had the full facts he'd know that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs for his members in renewable energy compared to just hundreds in nuclear power.

In a keynote speech last Wednesday Derek, who represents one million manufacturing workers, pointed out that:

"The main reason given for outsourcing production by manufacturing companies in the UK is ... high energy costs."

He then mistakenly said:

"Successive governments have shied away from difficult decisions and left us with ageing nuclear power stations and as yet no plans to start a new building programme. Together both have contributed to our over reliance on foreign gas and foreign electricity generation."

Of course the reality is that our increasing reliance on foreign gas is because we have squandered our own resources, and been spoilt by cheap gas, thus making it uneconomic to use it more eficiently. The income from the gas has also been wastefully spent.

Derek then said: "With renewable energy sources several decades away from providing more than a tiny minority of our energy needs we urgently need government policy to promote clean coal technology and nuclear power new builds so we can meet our medium term energy needs, save thousands of jobs, avoid black outs, rocketing household bills and meet our targets for reducing carbon emissions."

Well, the first statement is wrong - some sources are decades away, but many others are much nearer. The timescale also depends on the level of investment. For the cost of eight nuclear power stations, which would be ready in 8 years at the earliest, we could have the equivalent amount of safer energy from a variety of sources, much of it decentralised and therefore more efficient, and employing far more potential Amicus workers.

Yes, clean coal is a good short to medium-term stop-gap solution. But nuclear, or any alternative, won't stop household bills rising. And talk of black-outs is simply scare-mongering.

Some reading on jobs and renewables for Derek:
Finally we ought to mention the obvvious job creation potential of ESCOs.

This has been pioneered at Woking Council. Allan Jones was appointed head of the London Climate Change Agency because of his trailblazing work in Woking where the council became the only one in the country to have won The Queen's Award for Enterprise. He told me once: "We created a series of private networks supplying less than 100 MW per site, financed 80% by loans, and 20% by shareholders. 81% of the shareholders were from the private sector and 19% from local authorities. These ploughed their profits back into the community.

"We used a mixture of CHP and photovoltaic solar power because of the complementary seasonal supply profiles. In other words, when you need less heat in the summer, that's when solar electricity can meet the electricity demand. The only barriers to this are vested interests and regulation. We'll be addressing both, to turn London into a world class energy-conscious city. There is no need for centralised generation of electricity, and if half the country supplied its energy needs in this way we would need no more nuclear power stations."

The beauty of the model is also that as the elctricity is delivered by private wire - not thru the grid, distribution charges and losses are avoided. The cost of generating the power may be more expensive than conventional electricity or heat, but the delivered cost to the customer is about the same.

With ESCOs, a service (heat or power) is delivered rather than a product (boiler). Jobs are therefore needed to administrate and maintain all aspects of the system.

A common criticism of wind farms is that most of the jobs are only the at construction stage. But the same is true of nuclear power.

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