Friday, March 16, 2012

Wylfa nuclear newbuild favoured by Welsh Government; EDF abandons Heysham

Cardiff has announced that it expects to power Wales' future with a diverse range of low carbon technologies, including nuclear power, just as news emerges that EDF has cancelled plans for a new nuclear power station at Heysham, Lancashire.

The French company has annulled an agreement with the National Grid to set up any new connection to the grid from Heysham; all its plans for new stations are now focused on their sites at Sizewell and Hinkley Point.

Meanwhile, Wales expects to deploy new nuclear power at Wylfa on Anglesey as part of its transition to a low carbon economy, according to its new energy strategy, Energy Wales published yesterday.

This key policy document sees gas as the key transitional fuel because greenhouse gas emissions from it are "less than that of coal subject to the method of extraction". In the long term, it foresees the addition of carbon capture and storage to gas plants.

The document focuses almost exclusively on electricity, and to a lesser extent waste, almost neglecting the areas of heat and transport. It does share the UK Government's opinion that more electricity will be used in the future for transport and heating.

Its most controversial aspect is its support for nuclear power, the first time that the Welsh Government has been so unequivocal on this point.

Nuclear Wales

Energy Wales says the Cardiff Government supports the development of a new nuclear power station on Anglesey, which is being taken forward by Horizon Nuclear Power, a joint venture between E.ON UK and RWE npower.

The document uncritically repeats Horizon's claims that building a new nuclear power station at Wylfa B would "create around 800 permanent jobs and up to 5,000 during construction".

However, Horizon has not yet appointed the contractor to build a reactor on the site.

Both Areva and Westinghouse are in the running for this job. Westinghouse has warned that if Areva wins the contract it may call for an investigation under competition law because it would mean that Areva would secure the market monopoly, being already selected to build reactors for EDF Energy.

In addition, Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba of Japan, claims this would have a detrimental effect on jobs in Wales.

"It will have a permanent and significantly negative impact on the UK nuclear industry, jobs, manufacturing skills, supply chains and SMEs. Westinghouse have pledged to 'buy where they build' and source 70% UK content, Areva have existing supply chains in France and their UK commitment would be significantly less," says a legal document prepared on its behalf.

“There are undoubtedly risks associated with nuclear power but the risks posed by climate change are now so serious that we cannot dispense with a key proven low-carbon technology,” says the Energy Wales report.

This commitment was immediately criticised by Friends of the Earth Cymru, which said that it was the first time the Welsh Government had supported nuclear power in full.

"To believe that nuclear power can help build a prosperous Wales is misguided – renewable energy provides far more jobs than nuclear power per unit of energy generated,” said Gareth Clubb, its director.

Anglesey was the site over the weekend of a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan by a group called People Against Wylfa B (Pawb).

But the energy document and support for nuclear power has won support from Plaid Cymru leadership contender Dafydd Ellis-Thomas and William Powell, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Environment and Sustainable Development, who said the party accepted that non-renewables would continue to play an important role in Wales’ energy mix.

The international engineering and project management company AMEC has today been appointed by the Isle of Anglesey County Council as chief consultant for the Energy Island Programme, in a four-year contract with an unspecified value.

It will provide the Council with capacity and expertise in areas such as planning policy and development management, environmental impact assessment, consultation, Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) process and procedure as well as socio-economic regeneration aspects. The appointment recognises AMEC’s environmental, planning and engineering strengths in renewables and in the nuclear sector.

It is anticipated the programme could contribute nearly £2.5 billion to Anglesey and the North Wales economy over the next 15 years.

Renewables and energy efficiency

Energy Wales also sees a role for every other kind of renewable energy including the introduction of renewable bio-methane into the gas supply from anaerobic digestion, as well as for greater end use and conversion efficiency in space and water heating to reduce overall demand.

But little mention is made of Wales' vast resources of forestry timber for biomass generation of heat in the context of community heat and power generation.

The policy document vows to "relentlessly pursue energy efficiency so that we do more with less", but also exploit the principality's huge resources for marine and offshore wind power.

The Welsh Government is developing a Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan in which it will set out the strategic priorities for investment of what it sees as around £50 billion-worth of necessary low carbon electricity projects by 2025.

It expresses frustration that whereas some aspects of its legislature are devolved, such as planning, responsibility for large-scale energy development (above 50MW onshore and 1MW offshore) as well as the electricity transmission network that connects them, lies not with Wales but the UK Government.

It has commissioned Hyder to review current energy consenting systems, and its report is expected in the summer. Any necessary legislative changes will be fed into the Planning White Paper and subsequent Planning Bill. In the meantime it will continue to press for greater devolution of energy consenting powers.

Gerry Jewson, the chief executive of onshore wind energy firm West Coast Energy, said that the report showed that the Government "has listened to the representations of all stakeholders in Wales’ renewable future and has a real understanding of the issues" and called on "Cardiff to deliver action, not just aspiration".

He said that "specific and unambiguous commitments to targets for renewable technologies will be essential to focus the minds of planners and developers alike and catalyse the industry otherwise this good intent could be lost."

Other assets

Wales holds several major assets which are essential to the entire UK economy, such as the two LNG terminals at Milford Haven which are linked by a controversial pipeline to England.

It also holds deep sea ports which are potentially useful for establishing offshore energy infrastructure.

Although Energy Wales says that we "believe the development of the grid in Wales can and should be carried out in a way that is sensitive to its impact on our natural environment," no direct reference is made to the prospect of burying grid connection cables from onshore wind farms, a highly sensitive subject in Wales.

While the administration is opening its doors to developers to take advantage of a skilled workforce already with a tradition of the steel and coal industry, it expects developers to return the benefits of the investment to communities in Wales in the form of jobs, training and a share of the returns.

It sees a particular advantage in the fact that it can draw match funding from Brussels, such as through the European Regional Development Fund.

It points to its 'arbed' program and support the Anglesey Energy Island programme as examples of successful pilot projects, and sees that nuclear power on Anglesey as well as marine, solar, biomass, hydro and others can all play a part.

Launching ‘Energy Wales: A Low Carbon Transition’, the First Minister Carwyn Jones, said “Last year the renewable and low carbon sectors supported 29,000 jobs in Wales.

"I want to see these figures increase and see Wales securing the highest possible number of the 250,000 additional jobs predicted for the energy sector in the UK in the coming years."

Although renewable energy supplies only a little over 5% of Wales' electricity, 62% of this comes from wind and solar with a further 25% coming from thermal renewable generation and 13% from hydro generation.

Existing windfarms have a capacity of 562 MW, which will more than double next year when Gwynt y Môr offshore windfarm comes onstream to join a further 263MW from onshore developments.

On energy efficiency, Wales already has a comprehensive supply-chain, from manufacturing to installation, within its boundaries.

Insulation measures and micro-generation technologies are made in Wales by businesses including Rockwool, Knauf, Kingspan, and Sharp.

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