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UK gets carte blanche to expand nuclear power, fracking under new EU energy goals

Published time: January 23, 2014 13:01
Wind turbines are seen at Thanet Offshore Wind Farm off the Kent coast in southern England (Reuters / Stefan Wermuth)

Wind turbines are seen at Thanet Offshore Wind Farm off the Kent coast in southern England (Reuters / Stefan Wermuth)

New energy goals set out by the European Union for 2030 will allow Britain to meet emissions targets by building more nuclear power plants instead of wind farms and expand fracking operations, despite criticism by green campaigners.

The European Commission has proposed a new target for 2030 across the EU - to provide 27 percent of energy from renewable sources. Each country will decide for itself how to meet the target in order to limit rising energy costs. The commission decided not to introduce any laws on environmental damage during the extraction of shale gas by the potentially dangerous drilling process known as fracking.

On Wednesday, the EC stated that EU governments should cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels. Current national targets aimed at boosting the share of renewable energy to 20 percent would not be renewed after 2020.

"What we are presenting today is both ambitious and affordable," EC President Jose Manuel Barroso stated.

For Germany, France and Italy - which spoke in favor of the wind and solar power development - the new goals came as a disappointment, while Britain welcomed them. The UK will still have to provide 15 percent of its energy from renewable power by 2020, but after that benchmark there will be no target.

The new policy gives the UK government the long-awaited go-ahead to develop nuclear power and fracking as its key energy source. The less stringent rules allow Britain to use a mix of energy sources, including nuclear, to tackle emissions in a cost-effective way.

"This is a really good package,"
UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said. "It looks very much in line with the things the coalition has been arguing for."

Green campaigners said the new rules undermined renewable energy goals and promoted shale exploration, which has been welcomed by the UK.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said it was disappointed by what it called a "weak" EC outline of climate and energy policies. It said that by suggesting a low renewable energy target which places no legal requirements on member states, the EC was putting "the brakes on modernizing Europe’s energy system."

"The picture painted by the full set of policy proposals is dispiriting - an energy-efficiency target has been deferred; canceling the massive oversupply of carbon in the Emissions Trading Scheme is also deferred; closing the gaps in EU shale gas legislation is deferred. I’m sure the fossil fuel lobbyists will sleep well tonight," the head of Climate and Energy at the WWF's European Policy Office stated on the website.

"It is now up to Member State governments to show the political leadership needed to inspire Europe towards an industrial and economic revolution that will provide for both people and the planet,"
Jason Anderson added.

Renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, only function under certain weather conditions, when the wind is blowing or the sun shining. Although wind farms in the UK can be costly to maintain and electricity produced by them is more expensive, wind power enables it to be produced in an environmentally friendly-way, because the turbines produce no chemical or radioactive emissions. Electricity-generating plants using fossil fuels emit large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the major contributor to climate change.

In October the government gave the go-ahead for the UK's first new nuclear station in a generation. The 16 billion-pound ($26 billion) plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset will be developed by two Chinese companies and run by a French energy firm, EDF Energy. Hinkley's two planned reactors will provide power for up to six decades, and are set to take the UK towards low-carbon power and lower generating costs.