Nuclear, wind and the battle for trust and support

Written by Sam Rowe.
On the northern coasts of England, two fascinating stories are being played out which may determine the future of our energy industry. On the west coast, the uncertainty of Moorside and the nuclear industry, while on the east coast, the optimism of offshore wind.

 Moorside and Cumbria

The proposed nuclear power plant in Moorside, near Sellafield in Cumbria, has promised be transformational to the region. It is estimated that the £15bn project will bring over 20,000 jobs to the area, and confidence in it going ahead was high. Consultation had already begun on the overhead pylons to carry the power generated to the National Grid, with a planning application for the connections due to be submitted this year. Before the recent by-election in nearby constituency Copland, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to commit his support to the proposed development in an interview, which was a significant factor in Labour’s subsequent historic defeat of the seat to the Conservatives.

Since that by-election, the future of the project looks far less certain that it was originally thought. The US nuclear division of Toshiba – who had a 60% stake in NuGen, the consortium behind Moorside, recently filed for bankruptcy. It was planned that this division, Westinghouse Electric, would build the three reactors for the proposed plant. Since the bankruptcy was announced, Toshiba started a review of its involvement in non-Japanese nuclear projects. Since then, 40% stake holder Engie has pulled out of the project, leaving Toshiba the sole backer, and National Grid’s plans for connecting pylons have been put on hold. Local MPs are calling for Government intervention.

Wind and the Humber

On the other side of the country, things could not be more different. At the recent Offshore Wind Connections event in Bridlington, delegates were waxing lyrical about the promising future of the offshore wind industry in the Humber. £20bn has already been invested into the industry in the UK, with the new wind turbine factory Green Port Hull being a huge success for employment in the local area. Lord Haskins, chair of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, stated that offshore wind is already producing 10% of all electricity in the country, and could well be producing up to 40% in the next 15 years. Through cuts in costs and technological advances leading to increased productivity and competitiveness, offshore wind has made itself an increasingly attractive investment. It looks likely that it will soon be able to rely less on Government backing and stand on its own two feet. As Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK put it, offshore wind has gone ‘from the sidelines to the mainstream in less than a decade.’

Here we have two contrasting case studies of relationships with the wider political and economic stakeholder groups. The Moorside project, with its huge potential but financial risks, has less and less enthusiasm from the global business community, yet still has the political leverage to topple parties in the local area. Government will no doubt do as much as possible to make the project happen – Greg Clark has already visited Seoul to talk with South Korean Government officials to secure investment. In contrast, the offshore wind industry, even in the Humber region, still receives mixed views amongst the prospective MP candidates, and is constantly having to justify the benefits it has brought. It is unlikely anyone will lose their seat in Lincolnshire or the Humber due to a lack of support for offshore wind.

Evidently, the offshore wind industry still has a way to go to garner trust and support in the regional and national political communities. It is doing all the right things by decreasing costs, creating jobs and increasing investment returns, but so far has yet to spark the imagination of the country at large. A lot of work has been done to make offshore wind a viable, mainstream source of energy. Yet more work is required to convince everyone that this is the case.