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Sweden: Energy Commission files final report

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

The multiparty Energy Commission, whose members announced an overall agreement on Swedish energy policy in June 2016, published their final report on 9 January 2017 (SOU 2:2017 in the Government Official Reports series). The details of that announcement were reported in Nuclear Monitor #825. Neither the goals set out in June 2016 nor the internal inconsistencies between them have changed since then.

The present document includes critical comments from the three parliamentary parties that did not participate in the Commission. Otherwise, the few new developments are basically matters of emphasis. Energy efficiency is one such area. Alongside the goal of 100% reliance on electricity from renewable sources by 2040, the members of the Commission are agreed that: "Sweden shall have achieved a 50% in energy efficiency, relative to efficiency in 2005, by 2030." Their measure of energy efficiency is the ratio of "energy supplied in relation to GNP".*

The Swedish Energy Agency will soon open dialogues with the respective branches of industry to draft appropriate strategies and measures for each. Electricity-intensive industries will be given priority, as will measures to reduce electricity use for heating of indoor space. (Cooling needs are relatively minor here in Scandinavia.) A budget to support research and development efforts to improve efficiency will be drawn up during 2017.

Nuclear energy

Since June 2016, the government has abolished the tax on nuclear reactor capacity. The June announcement spoke of a compensatory increase in the tax on electricity use of SEK 0.04. The figure is now a bit higher, SEK 0.042. Electricity-intensive industry, which enjoys a reduced tax rate today, will be exempted from the increase.

As noted back in June 2016, there is no longer an end-date for nuclear energy in Sweden. Existing reactors may be replaced (at current sites only) when their "economic lifetime" has expired, i.e., even after 2040. But, the Commission states, government support for new reactors "in the form of subsidies, direct or indirect, cannot be taken for granted."

Prospective deficits in Sweden's Nuclear Waste Fund and the implications for waste management posed by both recently announced decommissioning of some reactors and probable extension of production in others have been debated far longer than the Commission has been working. The report notes that the government has instructed the Radiation Safety Authority to review the schedule of payments in the light of changes in the length of time Swedish reactors may be expected to operate. The Authority proposes extending the expected lifetime of reactors by 25%, from 40 to 50 years ‒ which, the report indicates, is acceptable to the 'Red-Green' Cabinet.

According to press sources, a revised schedule of payments will be announced "in early 2017".

Dissenting views

Three parties stood outide the Commission: the Sweden Democrats (12.9% of the electorate in 2014), the Left Party (5.7%) and the Liberal Party (5.4%). All three submitted comments that were critical of the Commission's proposals, and these were included as "reservations" in the Commission's report.

The Left Party rejects all aspects that permit or encourage continued use of nuclear energy, particularly the repeal of the capacity tax, the presumed extended life expectancy of reactors, and the (albeit unlikely) prospect of 'new build'. On the other hand, they applaud all the provisions that favor renewable energy sources. In addition, they propose two reforms that do not figure in the Commission's report. First, that the grid be de-privatized and put wholly in the public sector. The prime reason given is that since new technology allows more and more users of electricity to also deliver electricity to the grid, commercial interests should not be allowed to guide distribution infrastructure or policy. Second, research to improve energy storage capacity should be a top priority.

The Liberals, along with the Sweden Democrats, champion continued use of nuclear power. Both are strongly critical of proposed and continued public subsidies to wind and solar power.

The Liberals have no faith in the ability of intermittent and "weather-dependent" energy sources to reduce carbon emissions. They point out that whereas lifting the capacity tax on nuclear reactors makes it possible for owners to increase reactors' capacity, "vigorous subsidization" will allow wind power to out-compete renovated nuclear energy. What is more, they argue, subsidization of renewables will depress the price of EU emission rights, thereby increasing the profitability of coal in the European market.

The Sweden Democrats reject, with one exception, all form of subsidies in the energy market; subsidies (not least the system of 'green electricity certificates') encourage "production for which there is no market demand". They are what has caused the drop in power prices – termed an "energy market crisis" – which we currently experience. Therefore, instead of expanding the certificates, as the Commission proposes, the Sweden Democrats would rather abolish them.

The party follows a consistently market-liberal line of reasoning – until, that is, they turn to nuclear energy. Sweden's nuclear reactors are, they say, the mainstay of Swedish competitive strength. They strongly object to the Commission's agreement to (possibly) refrain from subsidizing replacement nuclear capacity, which in the Sweden Democrats' vision would be so-called 'fourth generation' breeder reactors. But, in the next breath ‒ with regard to hydroelectric capacity – they state: "If we are to achieve long-term sustainability in the electricity market, the lodestar for all actors, large and small, must be that all investments are based on economically rational decisions, where the ... price of electricity is decisive".

Having the British government's decision to go ahead with the Hinkley Point project – despite expected prices that are triple current rates to consumers – freshly in mind, I, for one, find it hard to reconcile this lofty principle with 'fourth-generation nuclear power'.


‒ Energikommissionen. Kraftsamling för framtidens energi [Gathering strength for our energy future]. SOU 2017:2.

‒ SWECO. Ekonomiska förutsättningar för skilda kraftslag [The costs of various energy sources; a comparative analysis], 2016.