‘We sit on the horns of a dilemma’ – Suffolk councillor on the future of the county’s energy

A CGI of what the Sizewell C nuclear power station will look like Picture: EDF Energy

A CGI of what the Sizewell C nuclear power station will look like Picture: EDF Energy - Credit: Archant

Green councillor Andrew Stringer says now is the time to choose if Suffolk will become the nuclear coast, or the renewable coast.

Cllr Andrew Stringer has opposed the new homes in Chapel Road. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cllr Andrew Stringer has opposed the new homes in Chapel Road. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

“We are the first to understand climate change, and the last that can do something about it.”

This quote is not from a protestor trying to change the world by non-violent direct action. These are the words of James Kelloway, the energy intelligence manager for the National Grid.

And right now Suffolk needs all the energy intelligence we can get.

We sit on the horns of a dilemma.

We have significant energy production resources in and around our coast line. And, perfectly understandably these resources are trying to grow – not only to help meet the country’s energy needs but to face the challenge of moving towards a low carbon economy.

Governments in the past have left us with a legacy of an unclear energy policy. Almost as if they were trying to ride two horses at the same time.

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This conflict is playing out in real time, right now on our Suffolk Coast. The choices we make now leave less and less room for error.

We simply must deliver a low carbon future in less than a decade, while the focus on value for money has never been more crucial.

If we are to continue with our current quality of life let alone leave a legacy that allows us to thrive. If that challenge wasn’t hard enough, this all plays out on a spectacular heritage coast.

The holiday playground and workplace for thousands. A nationally recognised site of natural beauty.

MORE: Three new areas of Suffolk coast added to ‘Outstanding Natural Beauty’ spot

This week Suffolk county councillors debated a motion to withdraw their support for the building of Sizewell C, now that we have received the planning application.

The build – which will take a decade or more – will be a land based affair, not the marine based build promised at the start.

This, coupled with the fact that we have only until September to respond to an issue that has been debated for more than a decade, means ‘we need to talk’.

So let’s look back at what has happened over these last 10 years in the renewable sector.

In 2010, renewable grid energy production was so low there was no graph showing it.

Less than 10 years later renewables – excluding biomass – accounted for almost 30% of all power generated in the UK.

Nuclear now accounts for 18% – down from 20% – 10 years ago.

In spring 2020 renewable electricity became so cheap that some electric car owners were paid to charge their cars up.

You could call it “too cheap to meter”.

If we continue to expand renewables at the current rate, they will easily account for over 60% of energy generation in the UK by 2030.

We have gone from 0% to 30% in a decade and innovations are continuing to take place.

Last month Panasonic announced their solid state battery. Capable of holding 400% more than current electric car batteries.

One car manufacturer is now guaranteeing their batteries for 1 million miles.

Our ability to not only produce but store renewable energy has never been more real.

A zero carbon 2030 could actually be within reach.

It is an interesting fact that if the same level of investment required to build Sizewell C was split equitably between every home in Suffolk each property would have: at least 10kilowatts of solar panels, enough to power a home four times over; two houses worth of battery storage systems; and a Tesla model 3 car. (Other models are available).

This helps point out the staggering investment Sizewell C represents.

So where will nuclear power in Suffolk be in 2030?

MORE: Revealed: The final proposals for Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast

The investors will be hoping to realise the £90 per megawatt hour deal they have already set in stone.

Currently renewables cost around £40 per megawatt hour with zero subsidy.

Will tourists continue to flock to the Suffolk coast, to be part of one of the largest construction sites on the UK?

Will they pack picnics to sit in the traffic jams on their coastal holidays?

Will we have been able to overcome the political difficulties regarding the security of who writes the software?

If all goes well, by 2030 Sizewell C will only be a few years away from delivering its first kilowatt of power.

Many declare we need the huge base load of electricity to keep the lights on.

But with a fast growing renewables and energy storage, is a large facility that is either on or off yesterday’s solution to tomorrows challenge?