Britain plans nuclear and offshore turbines to boost energy independence

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LONDON, April 7 (Reuters) – Britain set out plans to expand nuclear and offshore wind power on Thursday to bolster its energy independence, but a failure to target improved energy efficiency even as heating costs surge was attacked for lacking ambition.

With energy prices hitting record highs this year, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Britain set targets to increase wind, nuclear and solar generation, while supporting domestic production of oil and gas.

But options that could have delivered a more immediate impact, such as targets to expand onshore wind and improve home insulation, were lacking.

E.ON  UK chief Michael Lewis said a failure to include measures to help people reduce energy use and insulate homes “condemns thousands more customers to living in cold and draughty homes, wasting energy and paying more than they need to for their heating.”

There was also little detail on how the new projects would be funded, but last year Britain pledged up to 1.7 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) towards a new large-scale nuclear project and earlier this year said it would hold auctions for renewable project support every year. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plan would scale up domestic sources of affordable, clean and secure energy.

“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.

As Britain removes the low levels of oil and gas it gets from Russia, it will expand further into nuclear, with an ambition to increase capacity to 24 gigawatts (GW) by 2050. That would meet around a quarter of projected electricity demand, up sharply from about 14% today.

All but one of Britain’s existing nuclear plants are scheduled to close by 2030, and Hinkley Point C, the first new plant in more than 20 years, is expected to come online in 2026, almost a decade later than originally promised and over budget.

FUNDING DISPUTES

Britain will also target up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, up from around 10GW currently, with up to 5GW coming from floating installations in deeper seas. There would also be a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas, and a consultation on rules for solar projects.

However environmental campaigners were disappointed with the onshore wind plans, after the government said that it would explore partnerships with a limited number of communities who could host wind farms in return for lower bills.

Johnson had promised the strategy almost a month ago but it was delayed by disputes over funding and opposition by some lawmakers to onshore wind farms on aesthetic grounds.

The plan is unlikely to have an immediate impact on supply or prices that have helped push UK inflation to a 30-year high.

British business minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the strategy would take three to four years to make an impact on bills. 

Energy prices surged last year as the global economy reopened after the pandemic. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent them higher again.

Unlike Germany, Britain is not dependent on Russian energy, with the country supplying 8% of oil demand and less than 4% of natural gas – but it will be hit by competition as Europe seeks alternative sources. Britain will ban Russian oil and coal by the end of the year, and Russian gas as soon as possible.

Surging prices caused British consumer bills to rise 54% in April, and industries such as producers of glass, steel and chemicals say they cannot compete when prices are so high.

Gas-fired plants generated 40% of Britain’s electricity in 2021, with wind providing 20%, nuclear 14%, imports 9% and others such as bioenergy, solar and coal the rest.

The government said it would push forward new nuclear projects as soon as possible, including at the Wylfa site in Anglesey, Wales. A new body – Great British Nuclear – will be set up and up to eight new reactors could be delivered.

($1 = 0.7648 pounds)

(Reporting by William James and Paul Sandle; Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by David Gregorio and David Holmes)

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