Nuclear power at heart of new energy strategy, but onshore wind farm curbs to stay

Nuclear power at heart of new energy strategy, but onshore wind farm curbs to stay
Ambition to build eight new nuclear plants, but details of how they will be funded unlikely

A revival of nuclear power and a drive to exploit hydrogen will be unveiled in a controversial new energy strategy – but calls to end the block on onshore wind turbines will be rejected.

Boris Johnson will argue the long-delayed plan – held up by rows with the Treasury over its cost – will reduce the UK’s vulnerability to “volatile international prices”, following Russia’s assault on Ukraine.

It will set the ambition to build eight new nuclear stations, to improve energy self-sufficiency, although doubts about their funding and affordability will remain.

And it will unveil a target to double hydrogen production, with the aim of using it to heat one third of UK homes by 2050.

But it will say as little as half will come from “green” hydrogen, from renewable sources, with the rest from “blue” hydrogen, made using natural gas – and therefore carbon emitting.

And the prime minister has bowed to Conservative pressure not to lift the effective ban on onshore wind farms, after a fierce backlash from his MPs, including some ministers.

Labour is offering to help the government pass legislation to lift the ban, arguing it would save households up to £200 a year, but the proposal will be spurned.

A “limited’ number of places could be offered lower energy bills in return for agreeing to host nearby turbines, but the idea will only be consulted on at this stage.

The strategy will also pave the way for new North Sea oil and gas licences – despite a promise that any future explorations must pass a “climate compatibility” test.

The focus on long-term investments is likely to heighten the concerns of many Tory MPs that not enough will be done to ease the immediate pain from soaring energy bills this winter.

Unveiling the strategy, Mr Johnson will claim it “could” allow 95 per cent of Britain’s electricity to be low carbon by 2030 and create 40,000 more jobs in clean industries.

“This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills,” he said, ahead of its release.

A new body, called Great British Nuclear, will be set up to deliver eight planned new nuclear reactors, to provide 25 per cent of the UK’s electricity, but no details of how they will be funded have been provided.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has warned that nuclear plants are “incredibly difficult to deliver on short timescales” and may not come online until the mid-2040s.

The government will also “consult” on looser rules to put solar panels on rooftops, which “could” boost solar power by up to five times by 2035.

Ministers have left the door ajar to fracking, by asking the British Geological Survey (BGS) to investigate whether the risk of earthquakes has reduced since a moratorium was imposed in 2019.

But the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has made clear that the difficulties of drilling for shale gas mean it cannot be the solution to the energy crisis, even if the rules are eased.