Nuclear costs will swamp Labour’s green energy plans

The Sizewell B nuclear power station (photo: Mat Fascione (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Why Labour’s green policies are fatally undermined by its ‘nuclear first’ stance, says Dave Toke

It is now clear from Labour’s stance in the House of Commons, that nuclear power comes before everything else. Indeed, aside from Keir Starmer’s emphasis on ‘nuclear first’ attacks on the Government in the House of Commons, Labour’s allegedly massive green energy spending strategy seems likely to be swallowed up almost entirely by its pledge to rush to embrace the Sizewell C development. 

The Treasury knows full well that to get Sizewell C going reasonably quickly, the Government will have to commit to a potential bill of £30 billion or more in public spending. This must come, either or both, from hard-pressed energy consumers by adding to their bills, or directly from Treasury coffers. The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s spending plans are closely controlled by the Treasury, and the commitment to Sizewell C will swamp the budget and reduce Labour’s ability to spend on things like insulation and heat pumps to a trickle.

Keir Starmer thinks he has seen a weak point in the Conservatives’ energy strategy in that it is finding it difficult to turn the commitment to support Sizewell C into reality. But that’s because funding Sizewell out of a public commitment is likely to present the Government with a crippling financial burden. It is especially crippling because Starmer will refuse to acknowledge the fact that to get Sizewell C going will require the Government to fund a black hole of spending as cost overruns inevitably escalate on the project. 

It’s a cynical ploy on Labour’s part. They know full well that the Government’s difficulties with launching Sizewell C are to do with the sheer financial unviability of new nuclear power, not from any lack of faith in nuclear power on the part of the Government. But apparently, Starmer does not care about this, and it also seems that he takes the green energy lobby for granted in that he expects that it will support him regardless. But if other Labour commitments to support really big programmes in areas like heat pumps and insulation are to happen, there’s just not enough money going to be made available for them if BEIS’s budgets are swallowed up by the commitment to support Sizewell C.

So how should green energy supporters react to this? Well, there’s plenty of other parties to vote for. Indeed, if this Government does actually go ahead and reverse the English planning ban on onshore wind, there’s probably not going to be much difference, in practice, between Labour and the Conservatives on energy. Except, of course, that the Conservatives will be more cautious, it seems, on accepting unmanageable commitments to new nuclear power!

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