LONDON (Reuters) - The Energy ministry's latest data points to Britain's first new nuclear power plant starting operations in 2020, offering some clarity over the possible startup date for the delayed plant.
EDF Energy's 1,630-megawatt Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor was initially expected to commence electricity production in 2018, but regulatory delays following Japan's Fukushima accident have put back the start-up.
The French company has not given a new date for the plant's start of operations, but government data forecasting installed power capacity showed the energy ministry is counting on 2020 as the new date.
The data, published as part of a request under Environmental Information Regulations, showed the government expects Britain's nuclear capacity to jump to 11.3 gigawatts (GW) in 2020 from 9.6 GW in 2019. It stands at 10.1 GW this year but a plant closure is expected to reduce that figure in 2014.
"The estimates are based on conversations we've had with EDF," said a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
EDF has yet to make its final investment decision for the huge nuclear project and is locked into secretive discussions with the government about a minimum electricity price the French firm will receive for power generated at Hinkley Point C.
Britain is counting on a new wave of nuclear power plant construction to help it meet legally-binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
When the nuclear new build programme was first announced before the Fukushima accident, station developers came forward with plans to build 16 GW of new capacity by 2025.
The government figures show that it now expects only 3.3 GW of new nuclear capacity to come online by then.
The government figures also showed that it does not expect new gas-fired power generation capacity to rise before 2024, despite planning to reform the electricity market in a way that will encourage gas plants to be built for back-up capacity.
DECC forecasts gas-fired power capacity to drop to 25.9 GW by 2022, from 32.9 GW this year, before recovering to 28.3 GW in 2024.
At the same time, renewable energy capacity is predicted to increase more than three-fold to 51 GW by 2030, in line with the government's plan to encourage reduce carbon emissions from the power production sector.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; editing by Keiron Henderson)