Tuesday 19 October 2010

More dishonest arguments

I’m not in the least unhappy to see the plans for the proposed massive barrage across the Severn estuary consigned to the bin, although I’m disappointed that the government seem to have thrown out the baby with the bathwater by rejecting all schemes for the estuary rather than just the one. It is, though, another example of taking major strategic decisions on the basis of over-simplistic, and not entirely honest, economic analysis rather than on environmental grounds.

They seem to be saying on the one hand that they reject the barrage because the public purse can’t afford it, whilst they give the go-ahead to nuclear energy because there would be no public subsidy. Supporting that which requires no subsidy over that which cannot be built without subsidy sounds superficially sensible, but it depends on the validity of the underlying statements.

I can’t think of anyone who seriously argues that new nuclear power stations can be built without subsidy of some sort from the public purse. There is debate about the form and size of that subsidy – and there are ways of making it less obvious – but that there will be a subsidy, and a very significant one is surely beyond doubt.

And I don’t particularly object to a subsidy. Getting our energy policy right, and achieving significant cuts in carbon emissions, is an important enough objective for me to believe that it is right that we should be prepared to use public funding if necessary to achieve it. The question needing debate is about which energy policy is the best one.

Effectively, the UK Government have nailed their energy colours firmly to the nuclear mast. Public funds will be committed to new nuclear power stations rather than to renewable sources of energy. It’s a highly significant decision on energy policy (although in my view the wrong one), and it’s dishonest to portray it as purely a cost-cutting move.

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