Monday, October 03, 2005

Power firms remain coy over levels of nuclear energy use

Power firms remain coy over levels of nuclear energy use - [Sunday Herald]

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

THE nuclear industry stands accused of being “economical with the truth” by downplaying the amount of electricity it provides to domestic consumers.
An investigation by the Sunday Herald has revealed that power companies are systematically underestimating the proportion of nuclear electricity they supply to households. This is because they are worried about their customers switching to other suppliers, say energy and environmental groups.

Under new regulations, which came into force yesterday, all power companies are obliged to tell their consumers how polluting their electricity is. They have to say how much pollution is generated by coal, gas, nuclear and renewables, and how much carbon dioxide and nuclear waste results.

But none of the companies is admitting to how much nuclear electricity they really use. Although half of the electricity generated in Scotland is from nuclear power, and 21% throughout the UK as a whole, the highest proportion the industry says is supplied to domestic consumers is 16% by Scottish Gas.

Scotland’s other two major suppliers, ScottishPower and Scottish Hydro Electric, are telling their consumers that only 4% of their electricity is from nuclear power. In England, EDF Energy says 14% of its electricity is nuclear, Npower says 13% and Powergen says 8%.

“The fact that the levels of nuclear power the companies admit to supplying to customers fall well below the amounts being generated nationally suggests some are being a little economical with the truth,” said Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“This is hardly surprising since it is clearly easier to peddle unpopular nuclear power to industry and business rather than to the general public. Consumers wanting clean energy should stop propping up polluting power companies, vote with their purses and switch suppliers.”

Industry sources accept that the figures on the nuclear proportion are too low, but blame the nuclear company, British Energy, for failing to specify in contracts how much of its power is nuclear generated. The system set up by the government is, they claim, “fundamentally flawed” and in dire need of revision.

British Energy points out that it sells half of its electricity direct to industrial and commercial customers and half to companies to supply to domestic consumers. The vast majority of its power – 86% – comes from its nuclear power stations, including Hunterston and Torness in Scotland.

“The main electricity suppliers are hiding the amount of nuclear sourced power that they actually supply by using clever accounting tricks,” said Dr John Green, of energy consultants Green Electricity Marketplace. He also encouraged consumers who wanted to avoid nuclear power to switch to more environmentally friendly suppliers.

Companies’ figures for the amounts of nuclear waste produced will also be underestimates. Scottish Gas says that for each unit of its electricity, 1870 micrograms of nuclear waste is produced. The comparable figure for both ScottishPower and Scottish Hydro Electric is 500.

The Sunday Herald asked all the main power suppliers last week to say what they would be telling their customers under the Electricity (Fuel Mix Disclosure) Regulations 2005. With their answers, we have compiled the first full guide for consumers keen to know how polluting their power is.

Aside from nuclear power, the figures reveal that ScottishPower’s electricity is the least climate-friendly in Scotland. For each unit supplied to consumers, 590 grams of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, is released into the atmosphere.

This compares to 483 from Scottish Hydro Electric and 368 from Scottish Gas. The only company that spews out more carbon dioxide than ScottishPower is the English electricity supplier Powergen, which manages 642 grams per unit.

Just one company manages a completely clean bill of health, and that is Good Energy, a small new supplier that specialises in renewable power from wind farms. But unfortunately, according to prices from the consumers’ organisation, Energywatch Scotland, its electricity is the most expensive.

Julie Davenport, the chief executive of Good Energy, warmly welcomed the compulsory introduction of “fuel mix disclosure”. Her company offered consumers a straightforward way to reduce their impact on climate change, she claimed.

She added: “As more and more people become concerned with their impact on the environment, it is vital that they are able to easily find out the effect of their purchasing decisions, and fuel-mix disclosure is a positive step in this direction.”

For Graham Kerr from Energywatch Scotland, knowledge is power. “Energywatch wants consumers to take this information as an incentive to take action on energy efficiency, cut down on their consumption, reduce their carbon emissions and at the same time control their fuel bills,” he said.

The power companies all stressed that they were doing their best to cut pollution and to increase their use of renewable energy. Scottish Gas pointed out that it had been named as the country’s greenest energy supplier by the environmental group, WWF-UK, and that it was actively encouraging its consumers to use less power.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Hydro Electric said: “We’re very happy to comply with the new rules and fully support the idea that customers have a greater awareness of where their electricity comes from.”

Npower, however, argued that the figures can be “confusing” because electricity is bought and sold so often. “It is very difficult to be precise about any fuel element unless this is carefully tracked. Currently only fuel from renewable sources has a robust system in place to achieve this,” said an Npower spokesman.

He claimed that Npower was the largest operator of wind-powered generation in the UK. In a scheme developed with the environmental group, Greenpeace, consumers could choose “Npower juice” from a wind farm at North Hoyle off the coast of North Wales at no extra charge.

Powergen pointed out that it was the only company to offer residential customers micro combined heat and power systems, new boilers which generate electricity, cut pollution and offer savings of £120 a year.

02 October 2005


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