TERRY DIGNAN: The modern city never sleeps.
It consumes energy relentlessly. But at what cost? The burning of fossil
fuels - gas, coal and oil - creates greenhouse gases. These are changing
our planet's climate. For the worse.
We're using energy as
if there's no tomorrow. Which means we're in danger of passing on to future
generations an environment irretrievably damaged by global warming. We
could switch on the lights using more nuclear power, but many Labour MPs
would object. Or we could use so-called renewable sources of energy, wind
in particular. But then the government would have to be brave and ask us
to pay higher electricity prices.
DIETER HELM: This government has a massive
majority, it is politically extremely powerful and it is a once in a generation
opportunity to tell people the truth, confront them with the facts of the
pollution that are caused to provide their energy resources and tell them
that it's going to get more expensive.
DIGNAN: At the Energy Savings Trust,
Energy Minister, Brian Wilson hears ideas for reducing fossil fuel use.
We face becoming dependent on imported gas, while emissions of pollutants
like CO 2, Carbon Dioxide, will go on rising. The Prime Minister's Performance
and Innovation Unit has been asked to come up with a solution.
BRIAN WILSON MP: It's a very challenging circle
to square. If we go on, if we did nothing, if we didn't have this review,
if we didn't take any interventionist actions out of this review then we
would have this very high dependence on gas, our nuclear industry would
fade away and that has an impact on emissions and also we wouldn't make
progress on renewables which in the past we haven't done well on at all.
JOAN RUDDOCK MP: It's a matter of investment, it's
a matter of political will and I think also dispensing with some of the
vested interests. The calculations are quite clear we could, even by 2025
produce half our energy from renewable sources. I think if the government
puts its mind to it, that could be achieved.
DIGNAN: On the Suffolk coast there's
home-grown energy without global warming. But Sizewell A nuclear power
station belongs to a dying industry. The nuclear reactor underneath me
here will shut down for the last time in 2006. Most of our nuclear power
stations will close over the next twenty-five years and there are no plans
to replace them. Yet ministers are now refusing to rule out a long term
future for nuclear power. Unlike coal and gas, nuclear power does not emit
greenhouse gases like CO 2.
ROBIN JEFFREY: Nuclear power today provides
round about twenty five per cent, a quarter of the UK's electricity. It's
very important, that's a lot of electricity, that's one out of ever four
light bulbs. So it's a very important aspect of making electricity in the
UK and it's got some very special advantages because it's electricity without
putting green house gasses, global warming gasses up in to the environment.
DIGNAN: But there is a big drawback
to nuclear power. It produces radioactive waste. If the protective clothing
of these men becomes contaminated, the material can be disposed of or treated
safely. But waste from nuclear fuel is much more of a problem and the cost
of storing it prohibitive. Which is why the energy review is expected to
play down nuclear's contribution to our future needs.
RUDDOCK: We've got ten thousand
tons of highly toxic nuclear waste at the moment that nobody can actually
dispose of. We are planning to get up to five hundred thousand tons from
the existing nuclear capacity and it's going to cost us something like
eighty five billion pounds to deal with this problem.
DIGNAN: An era is drawing to a
close. But ministers fear becoming too reliant on fossil burning fuels.
So they might extend the lives of some nuclear power stations. Despite
pressure from environmentalists, they won't rule out a long term future
for nuclear power.
WILSON: I don't think you can
do that. I think it has to be kept, the option has to be kept open certainly
for the foreseeable future. I don't think there's any great rush to build
new nuclear power stations but on the other hand, I think it would be crazy
at this juncture to say nuclear is a...has got no contribution to make.
Because the challenge then of meeting our environmental obligations and
at the same time losing the nuclear component would become that that much
DIGNAN: Many believe this is where
we should get our energy from - the wind. So-called renewable energy like
wind doesn't give off greenhouse gases or create dangerous waste. But this
Norfolk wind farm only produces enough energy to heat fourteen hundred
homes. If we're to see a massive expansion in renewable energy, it's argued
both the public and the Government will have to do more than simply pay
lip service to the idea.
The wind is free and the
maintenance requires just the occasional visit from an engineer. Yet less
than three per cent of our energy comes from renewables. Ministers hope
it will be ten per cent by 2010. The Performance and Innovation Unit is
likely to suggest doubling that figure by 2020. Yet wind farms have taken
off slowly. They suffer from rules which penalise energy companies financially
for any interruption in supply.
NICK GOODALL: The new electricity trading
arrangements under which all electricity is traded are disadvantageous
to renewables and it's a perversity that on one hand we have a laudable
government objective of introducing an initial ten per cent of electricity
from renewables and yet the single most likely technology, wind, which
by it's nature is, is intermittent because sometimes it's windy and sometimes
it's not, is actively punished by the rules of the new trading system.
DIGNAN: The Government's answer
is the Renewables Obligation which will require the utility companies to
buy a tenth of their electricity from environmentally-friendly sources.
But ministers may be loathe to meet a figure of twenty per cent for fear
of driving up prices to the consumer.
WILSON: You have to keep a balance
here between what carries public acceptability and what government wants
to do and our obligations environmentally and towards our future energy,
energy policy. And if you've got these things too far out of sync then
it's going to create a backlash. It's going to create a backlash from domestic
consumers who don't want to see their bills going up disproportionately,
it's going to create a backlash from industry who do not want to be made
uncompetitive through the price of electricity.
HELM: In the end, it is a choice,
it doesn't add up to simply say: you could have low prices and you could
have a significant improvement in our global warming position. You can't
DIGNAN: And nor may it be possible
to substantially increase wind energy without changing planning laws. Some
regard wind farms as eyesores. So there are to be regional targets for
renewables. Yet tackling global warming may still be undermined by planning
WILSON: We can achieve the 2010
target but no one should make any mistake that it's challenging and the
whole planning issue is a major factor in whether or not we, we achieve
DIGNAN: Take to the sea - that's
one answer to the problem. This meteorologist and engineer from Enron Wind
in Germany, hope there's enough wind off the Essex coast to generate plenty
of energy. Yet ministers even sound a note of caution about this idea and
about renewable energy generally. To the disappointment of those who extol
the sea's obvious advantages.
GOODALL: There's an awful lot of
water out there and if the sea bed's good enough that's perfectly good
real estate for building wind farms. If you want to build a several hundred
mega watt wind farm, as we're beginning to see interest in now, there aren't
many places on-shore you can do that.
WILSON: Off shore wind can be a
huge contributor, but already there are some storm signs brewing there
of people with interests who will object to that. You can't really mention
one technology where there are not either objections to current projects
or the prospect of objections when you actually come forward with them.
DIGNAN: And it may be a struggle
linking offshore - and onshore - wind generators to the national grid.
Indeed, the way electricity is supplied is a problem for most renewables.
UNNAMED MAN: The grid connection is at
the back of Clacton on Sea, so we've got an overland route to the shoreline
and then undersea cables out to a transformer in this area.
DIGNAN: Renewable energy generators
will be scattered far and wide and they'll be on a much smaller scale than
conventional power plants.
HELM: We have an electricity
system which is designed primarily with big coal power stations in the
North and nuclear power stations on the periphery, away from populations,
in mind. Those big power stations output is then transported through our
electricity system to the customers predominantly in the South. Now that
system for big power stations is uniquely inappropriate for a world of
small-scale local embedded wind farms or bio-mass farms or whatever.
DIGNAN: The plan here is for thirty
generators. But first the visitors have to start monitoring the wind's
strength and direction using a weather mast. To encourage such investment
it's said the Performance and Innovation Unit's draft report proposes a
carbon tax on fossil fuels, making renewables comparatively cheaper and
providing revenue to adapt the grid. Ministers, though, fear voters' reaction.
WILSON: I'm always very wary of
these kind of cure all's that if only we did it this way everything would
be alright. Well we're doing it in one particular way which has to carry
public acceptance, has to carry public understanding.
HELM: Much as governments like
to please everybody and come up with solutions which everyone welcomes,
the fact is that if you want to reduce CO2 emissions in this country by
a substantial amount, it's going to cost an incredible amount of money,
it is not a free lunch.
DIGNAN: Just four or five of the
type of wind farm planned here could provide as much energy as Sizewell
A nuclear power station back up the coast. But doubts remain as to whether
there's the political will to switch to renewable energy. If there isn't
many fear it's hard to see how we can avoid doing further damage to our
RUDDOCK: We can meet our energy
needs by renewables and it seems to me that if the report comes out strongly
enough, and I hope it will, then the Government will have a message and
there will be many many Members of Parliament and indeed pressure groups
that will be saying to the government tackle this now, demonstrate the
political will and get on with the job.
WILSON: I think we should go full
steam ahead on renewables. We should and we are, we are putting weight
and commitment behind that on a scale which is in complete contrast to
everything that has gone before in, in this country. But the idea there's
a simple answer that you leap from or our present mix to one which is very
heavily dependent on renewables is, is not realistic.
DIGNAN: Our demand for energy is
insatiable. But the harm this causes our environment has left the Government
in a dilemma. There's no shortage of ideas for tackling the problem. But
they're expensive and politically risky. Which is why ministers appear
so fearful of endorsing them.