Sent: Monday, November 01, 2004 7:25 PM
Subject: Portugal's energy policy.
I noticed in your paper that the Portuguese government has dismissed nuclear power as a means of electricity generation. There are several reasons why that decision could turn out to be a serious mistake for the future of the Portuguese economy and the wellbeing of the population.
Like most industrialised countries Portugal is heavily dependent on oil. The reason for the recent serious increase in oil prices was predicted several decades ago. It is not only caused by political unrest in the Middle East; the simple fact is that we are now entering a phase in history where we are consuming oil at a rate which is higher than the rate at which we can produce it. In simple market terms: demand has outstripped supply.
There is now a general acceptance in the world that we need to cut back our consumption of oil, both for economic and for environmental reasons. Unfortunately Portugal is cutting oil consumption in favour of natural gas which does nothing to alleviate the environmental impact in terms of global warming. We have reserves of natural gas which are of a significant magnitude and like oil will last for decades at present consumption rates. Economically it makes sense to switch to natural gas because it is cheaper than oil . However, gas contracts are normally linked to oil prices and will therefore also rise with rising oil prices.
Portugal is fortunate in having a significant contribution to their power generation provided by hydro-power. As we have seen in the last few years this is naturally severely affected by rainfall and is not nearly as reliable as in other countries with a more predictable rainfall and a different water utilisation system. The capacity for hydro-power has also reached its limit and there are few further exploitation projects feasible.
Whatever contribution hydro, wind and solar power can contribute to the energy supply it is important to note that we will have to rely heavily on oil for transport for many years to come. To make ensure a reliable transport infrastructure it is important to reduce the consumption of oil and gas where alternatives are available. The only available large scale substitute for oil and gas in electricity production is nuclear energy.