UK energy – clearing the DECCs

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Earlier this month, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) made a raft of announcements, including six draft national policy statements on energy planning issues; the identification of no less than 10 sites for new nuclear-build; and a framework for developing clean coal plants. After 12 years of Government indecision on key energy issues, policy initiatives are coming out in droves as the decks are cleared ahead of the General Election.

Yet, the prospects for new generation investment, except for gas-fired plants, are not bright. On the nuclear front, new nuclear-builsd are heavily dependent on EdF, which has just recruited a new Chief Executive, Henri Proglio: his priority is to cut EdF’s c£23 billion of net debt. Already, EdF’s Constellation Energy investment in the US is under review. Certainly, there is no guarantee that new nuclear-build in the UK will remain high on EdF’s investment priorities - given that no revenues would accrue before 2018. (Memo to Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s Chief of Staff – get the boss to meet Proglio sharpish).

The German joint venture for UK new nuclear-build between E.On and RWE looks somewhat flaky, especially as E.On’s net debt has reached £40 billion. Moreover, the recent German election result gives both companies far better nuclear prospects in their homeland. DECC’s great green hope has always been Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), but - despite Vattenfall’s 30MW Schwarze Pumpe oxyfuel demonstration plant in Germany - the technology is many years from full-scale deployment. The costs, too, are very uncertain.

Hence, the outlook for new UK coal-fired generation looks grim especially since all such plants with a capacity of over 300 MW will now need full CCS installation at the outset. With renewable generation projects experiencing serious fund-raising pressures and long-term gas supplies being subject to real uncertainty, closing the UK’s widening energy gap looks very challenging.

Is DECC’s confidence misplaced?