Towns and villages around a proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C in Somerset could be in line to receive a £128m windfall under new proposals outlined by the government.
Campaigners opposed to the project dismissed the funding as a “social bribe” that only amounted to £3.3m annually over 40 years while wind farm developers complained they had to pay five times more in community benefits.
People living around eight potential nuclear sites in England and Wales could be eligible for a package of benefits worth up to £1,000 per megawatt of power once a facility starts, the government said.
“New nuclear will have a central role to play in our energy strategy, providing heat and light to homes across the country. It is absolutely essential that we recognise the contributions of those communities that host major new energy projects,” said Michael Fallon, the business and energy minister.
“This package is in the interests of local people, who will manage it to ensure long-term meaningful benefit to the community. It’s proportionate to the scale and lifespan of new nuclear power stations and it builds on the major economic benefits they will bring in terms of jobs, investment and use of local services,” he added.
The government has already introduced similar incentive schemes around onshore wind farms after it became clear that opposition to new projects was reduced in other countries where local communities stood to benefit.
Theo Simon, a spokesman for the Stop Hinkley campaign, said the offer to Somerset county council came at a time when there were £20m cuts taking place in its budget this year alone.
“It’s not a lot of money – it’s talked about as if it’s a sort of compensation or reward, but it’s really an acknowledgement that people in Somerset still feel profoundly unhappy about the whole plan for Hinkley C. Rather than seeing it as compensation we should see it as a social bribe.”
Simon said the kind of £90-plus “strike price” being talked about was already double the original figure proposed and would leave Somerset and the rest of the country saddled with much higher electricity bills.
“I can understand it’s difficult for cash-strapped councillors to resist but it would be worth nothing to local farming and other communities in the event of an accident. The long-term impact of that would be massive.”
And Vince Dale, founder of renewable power company Ecotricity said onshore wind developers were being made to pay £5,000 per megawatt to local people.
“This is a further move by the government to rig the energy market against renewables in favour of nuclear and gas. Nuclear power is already being fast-tracked through the planning system and today they’ve announced nuclear will pay a fraction of the community benefit paid by wind power.”
The government is still in negotiations with EDF Energy over a “strike price” that would provide a guaranteed long-term income for new reactors at Hinkley Point.
The government has already committed itself to a £10bn loan to the French-owned company but has repeatedly ruled out any subsidy for the Somerset project that is seen as a test case for any future atomic plants being built here.
Meanwhile the decision to only give financial support to plants that change from coal, say, to biomass was condemned by the Renewable Energy Association as “misguided” and could halt an estimated £1.8bn worth of schemes which were in the pipeline.
And both green power lobby and environmentalists expressed grave concern that the latest long-term projections contained in the EMR indicated ministers were cooling on prospects for offshore wind while expecting gas to play a potentially larger role with severe implications for Britain’s carbon emissions.
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