The government confirms that it is not continuing the ‘no public subsidy policy’ [for nuclear power] of the previous administration.
That little footnote, tucked away at the end of the announcement of Wednesday’s French-Chinese deal to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley point, detonates an atomic bomb under the UK government’s already bewildering energy policy and leaves ministers hunkered down in a nuclear bunker.
Just the day before, energy minister Andrea Leadsom said: “It is vital that industries over time stand on their own two feet. I don’t think anyone here would advocate an industry that only survives because of a subsidy paid by the billpayer.” She was justifying 87% cuts to subsidies for solar power, just as they are on the verge of becoming cheaper than gas.
The contradiction does not need spelling out. Nuclear power has had 60 years to stand on its own two feet. The admission it still needs subsidy (after five years of ministers denying precisely that) shows that traditional nuclear power can barely crawl. Whether this admission strengthens the EU challenge against the UK that it is providing illegal state aid remains to be seen.
Ministers argue that big nuclear power stations are key to energy security. The spooks disagree, saying having a Chinese-run nuclear power station in the UK for half a century is a hostage to fortune.
Ministers also say they are committed to cutting carbon from the UK energy supply, but that protecting consumers from higher energy bills is vital. Not many would disagree, so why are ministers all but banning new onshore wind farms, the cheapest form of green energy?
It was a manifesto commitment, says the government, presumably included to appease the minority of people who oppose wind farms. On Wednesday night, the House of Lords disagreed and voted down the Conservative’s anti-wind rules.