EDF, the French state-owned power company, can point to one big advantage of the nuclear power station it wants to build at Hinkley Point in southwest England. Once the reactor is turned on, it will churn out electricity at a steady price, unmoved by gyrations in wholesale gas costs.
There may be a case for including nuclear generation in the UK’s energy mix. However, predictability comes at a price. To make sure the plant is built, the government is having to guarantee an index-linked price of £92.50 per megawatt hour, roughly twice the current market rate. […]
Yet if new nuclear plants are needed to keep the lights on, that is because the UK has ruled out other options by adopting targets for emissions reduction that are among the toughest in the world. If policy makers believe these commitments are defensible even now that their cost has been laid bare, they should make their case. If not, they should reverse course. That this would be embarrassing is no excuse for saddling Britain with costs it cannot afford.
The idea of legally binding “carbon budgets” may have made an attractive addition to Tony Blair’s legacy when he proposed the idea in the dying days of his premiership. He was not the first politician to make incautious promises during a time of plenty. Nor was he the last; the coalition government seemed indifferent to cost when it committed to halve greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels as part of an effort to be the greenest government ever. However, the country should now ask whether it can afford to race ahead with emissions reduction while others drag their feet. The UK has decorated itself for an environmental record it has yet to earn. If these medals have become millstones, they should be cast off.