The coalition Government made their first real announcement on their nuclear policy last week and for about a nanosecond, I got quite excited.
It was a bold statement about nuclear power having a part to play in Britain’s future energy needs and Hartlepool being on the list of suitable locations for a new nuclear power station to be built.
Yes, we knew that already, so then what? Well, that was all they really said so it didn’t actually tell us anything new apart from reaffirming the position of the previous Government on the development of nuclear power.
People will probably remember that when the previous Government was putting together its policy on nuclear power a couple of years ago, the council carried out a number of pieces of work both to help shape the Government’s views on Hartlepool’s suitability as a site for a new power station and to make it easier for EDF to chose Hartlepool as a preferred site when the time came.
An economic impact assessment showed that building a new reactor would generate between three and four billion pounds for the local economy over the course of its construction and then through the life of the station.
An environmental impact assessment showed that there would not be any adverse effect on the local environment and in fact, there would be opportunities to build on the excellent natural habitat that already exists in the area.
A local public consultation exercise was also carried out to gauge the local feeling on whether there would be support for a new nuclear power station in Hartlepool.
The results were overwhelmingly in favour of Hartlepool being on the list for new stations.
I accept the recent disaster in Japan may well have caused some people to change their minds and if there is a planning application to come forward in the future for a new build, we would have to undertake another round of consultation
However I would be confident that the vast majority of people will still look positively on a new nuclear power station coming to Hartlepool.
As I see it, there are two huge barriers to this happening anytime soon. The first is the unfairness of the plug-in tariff in the North of the country compared to the South. It costs around £12 per Kw/h to plug into the national grid and generate electricity in the North-East.
It gets cheaper as you travel further down the country until you get to the South East and South West where companies are actually paid a subsidy to generate electricity.
I accept the fact that more electricity is needed in the South due to a larger population but unless there is an equalisation across the country in the feed-in tariff, we are never going to be able to compete as a location to build any kind new power station, never mind nuclear ones.
The second obstacle to Hartlepool actually coming forward as a very real option for a new nuclear power station is the fact that the Government refuse to subsidise the development of nuclear power.
Both the current Government and their predecessors have stated that nuclear will play an important part in supplying Britain energy needs in the future yet both have refused to subsidise its development.
The Hartlepool site is owned by EDF which in turn is virtually fully owned by the French Government. Their view (and you can’t blame them) is that why should they invest billions into the nuclear infrastructure of Britain when the British Government are not willing to themselves?
It is difficult for EDF to make an economic case to build at Hartlepool given the current factors I have mentioned so the best we can do at the moment is ensure we are in the very best position possible to take advantage of any opportunity we get to further our case to both Government and EDF and smooth the way to make any decisions either have to take be as easy as possible.
There is a very big part for renewables to pay in the provision of our future energy needs.
Again, Hartlepool is very well placed to take advantage of this and it has been well documented that we are in the running to attract wind farm manufacturers to locate here.
Energy from waste will become more prominent over future years and again Hartlepool and the Tees valley are already positioning themselves to lead the way.
I’m sure the debates will continue at a national level on the pros and cons of nuclear power and energy from renewables.
While either of them are still on the cards it is essential that Hartlepool is ready to take advantage and play our part in providing energy for the nation.