A new generation of nuclear power stations will avoid the “blight” of building tens of thousands of wind turbines in the countryside, a minister has said.
The government has defended a decision to hand a French company billions of pounds in subsidies to build Britain’s first new nuclear power plant for a generation.
Ministers said they want to build a new generation of 12 new nuclear reactors to ensure that people can “turn on the kettle” and to help “keep the lights on”.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said that Britain would need to build more than 30,000 onshore wind turbines to produce the same amount of energy, seven times the number currently in operation.
Michael Fallon, the Conservative energy minister, said that nuclear power stations will ultimately prove a cheaper and less controversial alternative.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “This is the first in a wave of new nuclear plants to replace the ageing fleet that Labour did nothing to tackle.
“Without new nuclear local people would face many thousands more wind farms blighting our landscape. By contrast, nuclear power is popular in areas that have existing stations and will deliver significant jobs and investment.”
The deal, which prompted warnings that household bills could rise to cover the costs of building the plant, was announced by David Cameron during a visit to Hinkley Point in Somerset.
Experts have warned that Britain is facing an energy crisis, with all but one of the country’s nuclear power station stations due to close by 2023.
The government has disclosed that the new reactors at Hinkley B in Somerset alone will produce the same amount of energy as 6,000 wind turbines built on 250,000 acres of land.
Ministers hope to meet Britain’s future energy needs by building 12 reactors across five sites.
However, despite agreement between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on the need for new nuclear power stations Mr Fallon’s comments are still likely to provoke a Coalition split.
The Conservatives are opposed to building more onshore wind farms, with David Cameron saying earlier this year that he “wouldn’t expect” many more to be built in Britain.
The Liberal Democrats only accepted building nuclear power stations as part of their party policy at their conference last month and highly supportive of wind energy.
In contrast to Mr Fallon’s comments Ed Davey, the energy secretary, said that onshore wind turbines remained “very competitive” and that their costs were continuing to fall.
The deal to build the £14 billion Hinkley Point plant in Somerset with French company EDF Energy has provoked a new row over rising energy bills.
The government is guaranteeing the price for each megawatt hour of power produced by the plant at £92.50, twice the present wholesale price, ensuring billions of pounds of income for EDF Energy.
Analysts have suggested that the move could increase household energy bills by £8 a year, but Mr Davey yesterday said it would be cheaper than building wind turbines instead.
He claimed that a new generation of nuclear power stations will reduce the average British energy bill by £77 a year from 2030. He admitted however, that he could not “guarantee” that people’s household bills would fall.
He said: “There’s huge amounts of uncertainties here. What’s the gas price going to do, how quickly will the cost of wind power go down. Will we get carbon capture and storage to be commercially viable? These are inherent uncertainties.”
Mr Davey said that building the power station will create jobs for 25,000 people, although he was unable to confirm how many will be for British workers.
The debate over the scale of the subsidy for EDF comes as the company prepares to raise prices for its 5 million customers. On Monday Npower became the latest energy company to raise prices, announcing that customers will face a hike of 10.4 per cent.
Mr Davey confirmed he confronted EDF executives about price rises in the back of a car on the way back from Hinkley Point yesterday. They declined to tell him if they were raising prices.
Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of EDF Energy, claimed the company had yet to make a decision but insisted that any price rise would be at the “lowest possible level”.
Mr Davey yesterday insisted that consumers would be protected from any hikes in costs and that EDF Energy would share in the “pain”.
He also dismissed security concerns over Chinese investment in British nuclear power stations.
Under the deal, the China Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corporation will investing in the scheme. However Bob Stewart, a back-bench Tory MP, said: “I am really concerned. We are in a benign environment at the moment but say things turn out quite differently, we could be running risks with our infrastructure”.
Mr Davey said: “We are moving to a new era where we can work with the Chinese and indeed other foreign states.”
During a visit to Hinkley Point, Mr Cameron said: “This government has a long-term economic plan for Britain, and we’re delivering, including this vital nuclear power station which we hope will be the first of several other nuclear power stations, kick-starting again this industry, providing thousands of jobs and providing long-term safe and secure supplies of electricity far into the future.”
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will announce that an offshore wind farm off the Scottish coast is among infrastructure projects in line for Government financial guarantees.
The Neart Na Gaoithe wind farm in the Forth Estuary is one of a list of 16 major projects that could get Treasury backing, Mr Alexander will announce.
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