Solar wins strong backing from UK's business chiefs, poll shows

An opinion poll of 1,000 business leaders in the U.K. has found diminishingly small support for the proposed new nuclear power plant Hinkley Point, with solar power garnering near-universal backing.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) is a traditionally conservative group comprising many of the most influential business leaders in the U.K. The recent poll revealed that just 9% of those surveyed were in strong agreement that the Hinkley Point nuclear plant would make Britain more economically competitive, and fewer than one-in-five were of the opinion that the nuclear option would make the country more "strategically secure".

A similar poll conducted 12 months ago found that the majority of IoD members were in favor of the nuclear plan, but recent shocks to the British economy – not least the Brexit vote of June – have served to damage confidence and nurture a distrust of the $22 billion plan.

In contrast, three-quarters of the IoD’s members supported action to counter climate change, with solar power earning particularly strong backing alongside wind and, to a lesser extent, tidal power.

Solar power had the backing of 53% of those polled, making it one of the most preferred power option for securing the U.K.’s energy security and independence, followed offshore wind with 45% support. Some 14% said that they “"neither support nor oppose" fracking, with 30% against it – which is in line with the general public’s mild distrust of the controversial shale exploration technique.

The fiercest ire, however, was reserved for the government, exacerbated by the perception that its current "strategy" is a mish-mash of contradictions. IoD senior infrastructure policy adviser Dan Lewis said: “The IoD backs nuclear as a reliable source of low-carbon energy, but each project has to make economic sense. Hinkley would generate reliable power for 5 million homes, but given the costs the government is right to take one final look before signing off.”

During this impasse, Lewis added, government policy has created "all sorts of bizarre outcomes", he said. "Instead of accelerating moves to safely frack for gas and oil in the U.K., we are importing coal and oil from Russia, and gas and oil from Norway, with the extra costs and emissions that involves.

"Instead of building cleaner gas plants to meet demand when renewables can’t, the government has been subsidizing more polluting diesel-fired plants."

A decision on whether to green-light the Hinkley plant is due in September. The government’s own figures released this month show that, by the time the plant is built, solar and wind power will be cheaper to produce at large-scale than nuclear.