Winds of Change

Nuclear power is put on the back burner as plans are unveiled for a new research centre to develop green energy, report Clayton Hirst and Severin Carrell

Sunday 23 February 2003 01:00

The Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, will tomorrow give a major boost to Britain's fledgling green power industry, with the formation of a new body to promote renewable energy.

Plans for the so-called National Energy Research Centre will be contained in the long-awaited Energy White Paper. This will spell out how the country will meet its future demand for gas, electricity and oil.

While delighting supporters of wind, wave and solar power, the announcement will disappoint the nuclear sector. Despite months of lobbying, the White Paper will offer no commitment on the construction of nuclear power stations. Instead, Ms Hewitt is expected to say that the Government wants to give renewable energy a head start before setting nuclear targets. The paper is expected to place a strong emphasis on emerging green technology, such as hydrogen fuel cells.

Shell, the oil company, is working on plans for the first land-based fuel cell power station – a 5MW plant, to be built possibly in the UK or Norway.

The new energy research centre will work with the Department of Trade and Industry's research councils and will distribute grants. Because of the Government's rescue of the nuclear generator British Energy, the Treasury is understood to have rejected calls for significant new grants for green energy. However, the Government's £250m fund for wind power is expected to be increased.

The decision to set up the energy research centre is a victory for David King, Tony Blair's chief scientist and head of the Office of Science and Technology. A keen supporter of research into advanced energy sources, Professor King has told ministers that it is essential to establish a dedicated national institute to oversee efforts to exploit new energy sources if Britain is to cut the gas emissions that cause climate change.

The renewable energy industry has warned the Government that the UK could lose lucrative overseas contracts and become a net importer of green energy technologies unless substantial financial and scientific effort is put into the field.

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