Boris Johnson is to put nuclear power at the heart of the UK’s new energy strategy, but ministers refused to set targets for onshore wind and pledged to continue offshore oil and gas development North.
Amid deep divisions among senior Tories, the strategy will enrage environmentalists, who say the government’s plans defy its own net zero targets and overlook alternative measures that experts say would relieve high energy bills much faster.
The prime minister will launch the plan on Thursday, after a period of intense political wrangling amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which rocked energy markets and sent national energy bills skyrocketing.
Whitehall sources said arguments over strategy between No 10, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) continued until the day before publication, an insider calling the process “chaos”.
The cabinet eventually agreed that atomic energy would form the backbone of the strategy, and up to eight new reactors are planned.
Onshore wind and solar power generation targets will also be raised, so that 95% of Britain’s electricity will come from domestic renewables by 2030.
But the plans risk infuriating environmental campaigners, after whether to remove barriers to more onshore wind farms appeared to fall victim to Tory infighting, new drilling in the North Sea won government blessings and ministers seemed to open the door to fracking.
Opposition parties have been scathing about the strategy. two elders
Labor and Liberal Democrat energy secretaries called him “ridiculous” and “hopeless” for failing to develop onshore wind power or tackle energy efficiency.
Ed Miliband, Labor’s climate change secretary, said the energy stimulus was “in disarray” and would do nothing to help the millions of families currently facing an energy crisis. “Boris Johnson has completely caved in to his own backbench MPs and now, ridiculously, his own energy strategy has failed in the sprint we needed on onshore wind and solar – the least local forms of energy expensive and the cleanest,” he said.
Ed Davey, the leader of the Lib Dem and another former energy secretary, added: ‘The Tories’ failure to help people cut their bills with an urgent program of energy insulation, the failure to support the Super cheap onshore wind and the failure to properly support new technologies like tidal power and hydrogen is a complete betrayal of families and pensioners across the UK.
The energy strategy outlines a far-reaching plan to boost national energy production through a range of energy sources. They understand:
Increase in nuclear capacity from 7 gigawatts to 24 GW
Offshore wind target raised from 40 GW to 50 GW (from 11 GW today)
Solar could grow five times from 14 GW to 70 GW by 2035
An ‘impartial’ review of whether fracking is safe
Up to 10 GW of hydrogen by 2030
Johnson said the plan “will reduce our dependence on energy sources exposed to volatile international prices that we cannot control, so that we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with lower bills.” .
“This plan comes in light of rising global energy prices, driven by post-pandemic demand surge as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This will be key to weaning Britain off expensive fossil fuels, which are subject to the volatility of gas prices set by international markets which we cannot control, and to boosting our various local energy sources for a more great long-term energy security.”
While some domestic renewable energy sources have gained traction, the wind industry’s hopes of getting the go-ahead to double onshore capacity to 30GW appear to have fallen victim to opposition within the Conservative Party to many new projects, particularly in England.
Communities that live near planned new projects could be offered incentives, such as guaranteed lower energy bills, but the plan does not include targets for increased production.
Cabinet colleagues disagree on whether to reform land use planning laws to speed up the development of onshore wind farms, which can take as little as a year to build and start contributing to the grid, but have been described by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as an “horror”. at week-end.
Shapps and Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris, a longtime opponent of onshore wind, are among a group of MPs who have sought to thwart a major deployment to England, along with Michael Gove and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – whose mandate includes Energy – among those to have been pushed back.
The Business Department is also said to have been thwarted by the Treasury in a plan to channel £300m of budget underspend into the rapid rollout of energy efficiency upgrades that could help homeowners lower their bills.
Solar has won strong backing from the government, which has said planning rules could be relaxed to encourage development on unprotected land, allowing for a five-fold increase in capacity, from 14 GW to 70 GW. The target for hydrogen will be doubled to 10 GW by 2030 “subject to affordability and value for money”.
Overall, ‘clean’ energy sources could create up to 40,000 new jobs, reaching a total of 480,000 by 2030, the government will say.
But alongside the push for renewable energy, plans will alarm opponents of new oil and gas development.
The British Geological Survey will conduct an ‘impartial’ review to determine whether hydraulic fracturing for shale gas can proceed safely, a move likely to spark fury from environmental activists over the controversial technology, particularly after the imposition of a moratorium on the process in 2019.
New oil and gas projects in the North Sea should also be accelerated, although the strategy sets out proposals to limit emissions as much as possible.
Nuclear is at the heart of the energy strategy. Ministers expect to launch a competitive selection process as early as next year for a new round of nuclear projects, although tensions between Downing Street and the Treasury over the cost of new projects, which are expected to require government investment, must yet to be resolved.
The target of producing 25% of Britain’s electricity from atomic energy is likely to require tens of billions of pounds of new investment from private companies, with the state providing guarantees as part of a new “regulated asset-based” funding model.
A £120million ‘Future Nuclear Enabling Fund’ will be launched this month in hopes of getting projects off the ground, while a new body called Great British Nuclear will oversee the plans.
National Grid has predicted that peak electricity demand will reach 85 GW by 2050, up from 60 GW today, due to factors such as vehicle electrification and home heating.
The government has said it could approve up to eight new reactors to help meet a production target of 24GW of the total from nuclear power stations, which typically have more than one reactor.
Part of the increase can be achieved by extending the life of the Sizewell B reactor, while the Hinkley Point C project is due for completion in 2027 and Rolls-Royce has the government’s blessing for small reactors dubbed “mini- nukes”.
Major projects that have already undergone some form of planning, such as Sizewell C and Wylfa in Anglesey, have been named by the government as among the first to gain support.
The target also involves new factories at sites whose locations have already been approved but where no plans are underway, such as Oldbury in Gloucestershire or Moorside (Sellafield) in Cumbria.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a global discussion about how to reduce reliance on Kremlin-controlled oil and gas, it appears to have chilled the government’s resolve to limit production UK fossil fuels.
Oil and gas drilling in the North Sea is at odds with the government’s own net zero targets. The government will justify the plans by saying that exploiting hydrocarbons locally emits less carbon than importing supplies from elsewhere.
Ministers have also commissioned a new study to look at safety issues around hydraulic fracturing, which polls show is deeply unpopular with the public.