(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson ramped up plans to build new nuclear power stations and offshore wind farms as he seeks to shore up the U.K.’s energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The premier’s energy security strategy targets a tripling of installed nuclear power capacity by 2050 and accelerates plans to install offshore wind farms this decade. The document also includes more ambitious targets on hydrogen, solar power and measures to spur North Sea oil and gas projects.
The strategy aims to eliminate British reliance on Russian hydrocarbons and push the country toward energy self-sufficiency, easing prices in the long-run. It comes just days after Britons were hit by a 54% rise in a price cap on energy bills, driven by a surge in wholesale gas prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
“This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills,” Johnson said in a statement late Wednesday from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
But the document was immediately criticized by climate groups and opposition politicians as failing to bring down energy prices by taking insufficient action to spur onshore wind, solar power and energy efficiency.
Strategy ‘Won’t Deliver’
The strategy “won’t cut bills, won’t deliver energy independence, and won’t tackle the climate crisis,” Ed Miliband, the main opposition Labour Party’s spokesman on climate change, said in a statement.
Climate change research group E3G said there was too much emphasis on longer-term programs for nuclear power, offshore oil and gas and hydrogen.
“The focus should have been on rapid measures to boost energy security at home,” said E3G Senior Policy Advisor Juliet Phillips. “By instead emphasizing on technologies which won’t deliver until far into the future, the government has both failed to meet the moment, and failed to read the mood of the nation.”
Measures in the strategy include:
- An ambition to develop 24 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2050, up from about 8 gigawatts in 2020
- A goal to get up to 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030
- A target to develop 50 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, up from a previous goal of 40 gigawatts, and about 14 gigawatts at present. The goal includes as much as 5 gigawatts of floating turbines in deeper waters
- A fresh licensing round for North Sea oil and gas projects in the fall
- 30 million pounds ($39 million) to help develop heat pumps
- A consultation on the rules for solar projects, which the government said could increase five times in capacity by 2035, from 14 gigawatts at present
- A doubling to 10 gigawatts of the goal for hydrogen projects, with at least half coming from so-called green hydrogen produced using water and renewable power
The government said the fresh measures will support an additional 30,000 jobs in offshore wind, 3,000 more in hydrogen, and about 5,000 more in solar power.
The nuclear goals in particular will involve a significant change in pace of development of projects. A planned renaissance in the industry has stuttered over more than a decade as several projects failed to get up and running, and the only one being built has suffered repeated delays. At present all but one of the U.K.’s 11 reactors at five sites are due to close by the end of the decade.
Electricite de France SA is building a new plant at Hinkley Point in southwest England, and before Wednesday, the government’s plan was to agree by 2024 to build another large-scale nuclear plant, likely to be EDF’s Sizewell C. EDF is also considering extending the operating life of its Sizewell B station for another 20 years to 2055.
Under Johnson’s new plan, nuclear will provide 25% of the country’s power in three decades, up from 16% at present. The government will “work to progress a series of projects as soon as possible this decade,” including the Wylfa site in Wales, it said, adding the new plans could deliver as many as eight reactors.
In addition, ministers will set up a new government body, called Great British Nuclear, to bring forward new projects, and establish a 120 million-pound Nuclear Enabling Fund.
Johnson had promised the document would be published “in the days ahead” in early March, but it’s been held up as his office and the Business Department wrangled with the Treasury over additional funding for nuclear power and energy efficiency measures. In the event, Wednesday’s announcement contained little new funding beyond some money for heat pumps and the nuclear fund.
The premier’s own Conservative Party is also split over deployment of onshore wind, described by some as an eyesore, and fracking for gas, which has been on hold since a test well was hit by small earthquakes in 2019.
Under the new strategy, authorities will consult on partnerships with “a limited number of supportive communities” over supporting onshore wind projects in exchange for lower energy bills, according to the statement.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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