How you will soon be paying for Trident on your electricity bill

Whether you support or oppose Britain’s very costly renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent  you  would expect to pay for it through general taxation.

You wouldn’t expect to have to subsidise it by paying even higher prices for essential and already expensive electricity to light and heat your home.

Yet this exactly what is going to happen following a  disclosure this month after a very short exchange between MPs and senior civil servants at a  hearing of the Commons Public Accounts Committee this month. And you won’t be seeing this spelt out in your bills.

The hearing was not into Trident but into the rapidly increasing costs and management of Britain’s first nuclear power station for decades at Hinkley Point.

But the issue was raised from a paper submitted to the committee by the Sussex University Social Science Policy Research Unit from Prof. Andy Stirling, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and Dr Phil Johnstone.

Its key words were: ” an undetermined part of the full costs of this expensive, controversial – but officially highly-prioritised [3] – military infrastructure are in effect (without clear public acknowledgement or justification), being loaded into electricity prices. With costs of alternative large-scale domestic low-carbon energy resources like offshore wind power confirmed as significantly more favourable than HPC [4], it seems a hidden subsidy is being imposed on electricity consumers.”

“If a UK withdrawal from civil nuclear power on grounds of uncompetitive economics were to leave these shared costs borne entirely on the military side, then UK military nuclear infrastructures would be significantly more expensive.

“If civil nuclear commitments are being maintained (despite adverse economics) in order to help cover these shared costs, then it is this that amounts to a cross-subsidy.”

The problem was that these academics could only speculate they have no proof. Until now.

Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the committee, without referring  to all this detail from Sussex University got an admission. She questioned Stephen Lovegrove, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Energy and Climate Change, on the issue.

This is the exchange:

“ Mr Lovegrove, there has been an argument put forward by Sussex University that Hinkley is a great opportunity to maintain our nuclear skills base. With your hat on at the Ministry of Defence, are you having discussions with the business Department about this?

Mr Lovegrove: “We are, yes. In my last year at DECC, I was in regular discussion with Jon Thompson, former Permanent Secretary at the MOD, to say that as a nation we are going into a fairly intense period of nuclear activity…. We are building the new SSBNs (nuclear armed nuclear submarines) and completing the Astutes.

…We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills.

“I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS ( Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) fairly repeatedly about it, and have a number of forums in which we are doing that.”

So it is true. The two programmes ARE linked. And with  the cost of nuclear powered electricity at £92.50  per unit compared to £57 from other sources including renewable energy you are going to pay substantially more.

One company that is publicly delighted by this is Rolls Royce.  They are quoted saying : “that “expansion of a nuclear-capable skilled workforce through a civil nuclear UK programme would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability. This would free up valuable resources for other investments”.

Well Rolls Royce got £100m out of the submarine order and are happy for you to pay for the nuclear research. So it is more profit for them, higher bills for you.

The original article is published in Tribune magazine this week.




Will bad planning by the Tories let the lights go out?

A new nuclear power station every 18 months -Cameron. Pic courtesy

A mad rush by the Tories to cut public expenditure the moment they are in office is already leading to fears that it could destabilise Britain’s fragile recovery. But there is now growing evidence that other policies could have similar damaging effects on the country.

Two Green Papers –one on planning and the other on energy- are leading to serious questions from some of the Tories natural allies – the CBI and the British Property Federation about their effectiveness. And when one looks at the detail, it is no wonder why.

The green paper on planning looks on the surface as a great, pro local democracy, anti bureaucracy document. And it does contain some good ideas, notably Open Source documents for all future planning applications.

 But in their rush to cull New Labour quangos, the Tories look set to stall rather than quicken the economic recovery. Their dash to kill the Infrastructure Planning Commission is actually going to cause chaos and confusion for any major schemes that might require planning permission in the next few years.

For the Tories want to bring back Parliamentary private bills for major projects and are daft enough to quote the Crossrail bill as a wonderful example of an alternative way of handling objections. This bill took literally years to get through Parliament with all day sittings and an enormous toll on the disinterested MPs who were supposed to monitor it.

Worse still The Tories are proposing an interim period when the Commission facing abolition will still be handling applications, while Parliament is geared up for a new role. Confused? Anyone would be.

But never mind. In their green energy paper, they propose using the same procedure to build an ambitious high speed rail link and nuclear power stations.

They deride Labour’s  London to Birmingham link as not ambitious enough and want to build a high speed railway across England .But imagine how long this will take under their planning reforms. The long winded Crossrail bill was just concerned with greater London but a bill for the whole of England will need the full term of the next Parliament for authorisation..

Cameron also promises to build a new nuclear power station every 18 months to solve the energy crisis – again using Parliamentary private bills to get planning permission. Energy analysts are not impressed. Inencom, the UK’s largest energy analysts, warned that this target is “verging on the impossible”, claiming that even if the party overcame planning delays, solving the skills shortages and construction complications would be a “huge challenge.”

Some of the smaller proposals in both papers also don’t stand heavy scrutiny.

On planning the Tories want to allow local residents and third party groups to object to new house building. This could also cause chaos for new home developments and traditional allies are not impressed.

 The British Property Federation said: “This would cause chaos for the system by allowing all manner of appeals.”

John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General, says: “The CBI agrees with the Conservatives that the planning system is broken, but it remains to be seen whether these proposals will fix it.”

And some energy schemes like encouraging micro generation of electricity in every home have not impressed the CBI either. Dr Neil Bentley, the CBI’s Director of Business Environment, said: This could end up increasing energy costs for businesses and consumers without increasing investment.”

The danger here is that not only will the Tories scupper a fragile recovery but manage to ensure that some half baked proposals will stifle new investment. They could even put the lights out.

This blog is also on as part of my Tory tracker column.