On 28 July, the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy released its energy statistics for 2015. These showed a general increase in energy produced and consumed. Within the power generation sector, there was an attention-grabbing figure, a major increase – 29% year on year – in the proportion of electricity generated from renewables. All told, renewables fuelled 24.6% of electricity generation, with gas providing 30%, coal 22%, nuclear 21%, and other fuels 2.8%.
Also on Thursday, EDF, the largely state-owned French energy company that is the primary partner in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant agreed to go ahead with the project. This had not been a foregone conclusion: a substantial portion of the board, the unions, ratings agencies, and many in the French press had argued against it (Fr, En) on the grounds that the technology is untested and that the already heavily-indebted company could ill afford to take on such a high-expense, high-risk project
On Friday – at the point where the marquees were already up for the Hinkley contract signing (though it has emerged that Theresa May had earlier told Francois Hollande of her decision) – the Government placed the project under review, promising a final decision in the Autumn.
Why might the Government have taken this decision?
One factor appears to have been national security concerns around Chinese firms’ role: Theresa May’s influential new Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, had argued last year that handing over major energy infrastructure projects to Chinese firms could constitute a national security risk, and May is said to have raised this as an issue.
One factor may have related to financial concerns with the contract. A National Audit Office report released a few weeks ago estimated that over the thirty-five year period of the contract (which is much longer than is usual), British taxpayers would wind up paying almost £30 billion to EDF in top-up costs, as the index-linked energy price the contract guarantees EDF is much higher than the current (and projected) wholesale energy costs.* While there are differences on the calculations based on different people’s estimates of future wholesale costs, concerns that the energy would be expensive and that the burden would fall on the taxpayer are widely acknowledged (including in France!). The NAO report also flagged up further potential costs to the public, due to debt guarantees offered by the government.
Another factor in the Government decision may have been concerns about whether the project would deliver: no project using the proposed technology is operational, none shows signs of coming in on time or on budget, and the contract as written actually allows for slippage four years beyond when the UK needs the plant to be online. Many have argued, moreover, that the nuclear technology involved is not the best for our purposes, and that if there is a need for nuclear plants, smaller units with a different technology would be better suited.
Still another factor may have been the awareness that the costs of renewable technologies are falling – in the NAO’s report, onshore wind and large solar installations both come in as cheaper options than nuclear. The potential for energy savings via creation of smarter grids, dispersed production and increases in energy efficiency are also significant. Investment in all these areas, which could enable the UK to meet its energy needs and its carbon commitments more cheaply, would potentially be squeezed out by the enormous Hinkley subsidies.
The numerous arguments that Hinkley Point C is not the best option for meeting the UK’s energy needs or climate commitments – combined with broad concerns about the safety of nuclear operations and the long-term storage of nuclear waste – mean that the Government’s decision has met with widespread approbation (Carbon Brief summary, Telegraph, Guardian letters, FT). And it’s interesting to think that the Government might be exploring the potential for new technologies and new models for generation, energy reduction, and grid management.
But there are outstanding questions. What other options might the government favour? Given the short timescale for replacing coal-fired plants (they’re due to retire in 2025), could ending the Hinkley plant actually lead to a greater emphasis on shale gas, with all the negative environmental and carbon implications involved? If Hinkley Point and gas aren’t the preferred options, what would be needed to mobilise resources quickly enough? And, given the UK’s recent history of sudden energy-policy changes – the changes to solar subsidies are estimated to have cost some 12,000 jobs and (with other changes) dented investor confidence severely – how can the government convince clean energy investors that they’ll have a stable environment in which to operate?
The recent passage of the Fifth Carbon Budget gives the UK ambitious carbon targets to work for – and the rapid transformation of renewable energy gives hope for meeting those in creative ways. Can we make the most of those opportunities?
- for wisdom for those charged with the review of Hinkley Point C
- for wisdom for those charged with developing the UK’s overall energy policy. Pray that they may develop a policy which enables the UK to decarbonise rapidly and safely, maintain an adequate supply to meet our needs, and protect those most vulnerable to energy poverty.
- that the review will not have an overly negative impact on Franco-British relations at a time of general tensions between the UK and Europe
During this period of review, could you write to your MP to express your concerns about Hinkley Point? If you’d like more information or a suggested text, email us – or take a look at this excellent Carbon Brief Q and A (it’s also mentioned in some of the links above).
*The NAO report shows that the prices guaranteed in the most recent auctions for some offshore wind programmes are actually higher than that guaranteed to EDF (£92.50 in 2012 pounds, index-linked) – though arguably if they had the longer contract time that Hinkley Point has, they’d be lower. By comparison onshore wind and solar PV auctions from 2015 – even with shorter time periods – show much lower prices of around £80 in 2015 pounds.
Prayers of Hope: A commitment to overcome AIDS
More than 18,000 people attended the 21st annual AIDS Conference, held in Durban from 18 to 22 July. The conference focused on the theme of equity access – ensuring that all people, including marginalised groups, are able to access prevention and treatment, and that there is enough funding to provide it.
In the opening press release, Chris Beyrer, the chair of the conference and President of the International AIDS Society, noted: “This conference comes at another crucial time in the HIV epidemic. To truly succeed in all places and for all people, we must ensure that every action we take is grounded in science, respects human rights, and is fully funded for success. If we don’t make the right strategic choices, we risk reversing hard-won gains. Delay is tantamount to defeat.”
What role can our churches play? Lyn van Rooyen, who directs the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa (CABSA), wrote:
“In the two day interfaith preconference – “Faith on the Fast Track”- it has become clear that the church has become weary and apathetic towards the epidemic. On Tuesday evening, 19th of July, people of faith will be meeting in the Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban to pray together about the epidemic and the role of faith communities. On this occasion we will be sharing a litany based on a recent faith leaders call to action. We would like to invite you to commit to this with us, and to share this in your faith communities when you meet together in the following weeks.”
- in thanksgiving for the advances that have made it possible for people to live flourishing lives while being HIV+
- for increases in funding to continue the progress that has been made in providing prevention and treatment
- for all HIV+ people, everywhere, to be able to access appropriate treatment and care
- for the church to witness to Christ’s love in the way it supports those living with HIV, whether within or outside our congregations
The start of the litany Lyn wrote is below. If you would like the full prayer, please email us.
Leader: Every person is precious. No one should be left behind.
All: As people of faith, we proclaim our respect for human dignity and the value of human life.
Leader: The next 5 years is a crucial time in the response to the HIV epidemic
All: As people of faith we commit to increase our efforts and not grow weary.
Leader: Stigma and discrimination continues to be a barrier to those seeking treatment, care and support
All: As people of faith we commit to speaking out against stigma against people living with HIV, within and outside our faith communities, particularly marginalized and key populations.
Leader: HIV services and medication are still not accessible to all.
All: As people of faith we commit to work with others to ensure that HIV services are
available in all communities where we have a presence.
Media and Terrorism
The French newspaper Le Monde announced (article, original editorial) this week that, in addition to not carrying any content put out by the Islamic State, they would no longer carry pictures of the perpetrators of attacks “to avoid the potential effect of posthumous glorification.” It was joined by several other media outlets, including the newspaper La Croix.
The move inspired considerable debate in France – and also here (links well worth reading!) – not only about the particular question but more widely about the role of media coverage in relation to terrorist incidents. On the one hand people argued that surrounding people vulnerable to Islamic State propaganda with reproduced propaganda material and evidence of the impact of attacks was potentially counterproductive. This isn’t just intuitive: a study of incidents around the world suggested that sensational reporting of attacks can lead to a greater number of follow-up attacks, as can be the case with other forms of violence. Continuous reporting of every attack made by an individual, moreover, heightens the atmosphere of fear among the general public, which is precisely what terrorist organisations seek. On the other hand, some argued that in an age of social media, it was important for responsible media to offer detailed coverage in order to counter myth and rumour.
Please pray for wisdom for those called to make decisions about reporting terrorism. And pray for all of us. As Gillian Tett wrote: “These days, the war is not only being waged on the battlefield, or shopping malls and seaside parades; a second front has opened up in cyber space and inside our minds. And what makes this second — largely hidden — fight so insidious is that it involves all of us, sitting in our own homes in front of our computer screens or mobile phones.” What do we choose to watch? In a world where online journalism’s success is measured in clicks, what do we click on? Share? Retweet? Pray that we, as creators of social media and/or consumers of media in all its forms, may also show good judgement.
If anyone is interested, we don’t yet have a formal policy on this for our social media – but we are working to ensure that we don’t focus overly on Western terror attacks in our prayer points. We’re also taking seriously the New York Times’ call to focus more on those affected than on those who carry out attacks.
Short Notes: South African Elections, In Brief …
South African Elections
On the 3rd of August, South Africa is holding what has been called “the mother of all municipal elections”: in metro, district and local municipalities across the country, 63,654 candidates from 204 parties will seek office (handy guides to the process are available from the Independent and Independent Electoral Commission).
It’s a significant election politically, as some polls suggest the ruling African National Congress could lose control of several major metro areas. It’s also quite a complex and difficult election, with the IEC citing problems with registration, allegations of intimidation, election-related violence and intra-party conflict. Please pray for a free and fair election process, and an end to any incidences of intimidation, violence or fraud. Please pray also for wisdom and discernment for all voters and candidates – and for those who are elected to govern wisely and well.
In Brief …
- We hope to cover the rapidly changing situation in Zimbabwe in the near future, but in the meantime, please consider using these prayer points from 24/7 prayer
- South Sudan continues to need our prayers. Each week, CMS is providing some very helpful prayer points: find them here.
- Please pray for the inhabitants of the city of Aleppo – pray that those who wish to leave are able to do so and that humanitarian aid is able to reach those who cannot or do not wish to leave. Pray for all affected by the bombing of hospital facilities, and an end to such attacks.
- There has been a recurrence of violence in parts of the Central African Republic. Pray for peace throughout that country, for an end to the impunity that threatens peace, and for all who are working on healing and restoring hope to those who have suffered in the country’s conflict.
Hinkley Point B photograph by Reading Tom, Flickr, Creative Commons license.