Don't fixate on the "billions" that the energy companies make. They are large corporations that service many customers. A better gauge of their health is the net profit as a percentage of gross. If it's 50%, go ahead and chastise them. If it's 20%, they are a healthy, well run company. If it's 5%, their accountants have found some very good off-shore tax havens and can cook the books very well. Those are the guys I want figuring my tax returns.
The "Social" costs are probably the corporate fascination and utter waste of time of employing people to develop and maintain Facebook pages and a presence on "Social" media sites. I've always wondered why electricity companies advertise. In the US, you really don't have a choice, so advertising doesn't accomplish anything. The same for sponsorship of concert and sports venues.
Thorium LFTR reactors are very promising but have incomplete development. The Chinese will go live with their LFTR test reactor in 2013. I'm sure they will be happy to license the patents to the rest of the world when they have a proven system ready. Not that the Chinese respect anyone else's patents. Pressurized Water Reactors, breeders of almost all designs that I know of and Fast reactors all have safety issues. Most of the issues are well contained and understood. The problem is when you run into the political dictates that lead to Fukishima's disastrous cock up of putting the backup generators in harms way against the recommendations of competent engineers, plants located on flood plains and other stupidity. Coal power plants put out more radioactivity than nuke plants ever have. Slag piles are filthy with radiation.
Petrol is not used for commercial power generation! The news media and other idiots always talk about lessening dependence on imported oil by reducing electrical usage. The only power plants that use petroleum are old, used only as emergency back up and are being converted to run on natural gas or being torn out.
Natural gas is not "clean". It is cleaner than coal, but that really isn't saying a whole lot. Burning hydrocarbons produces CO2. Natural gas isn't any different. Incomplete combustion of CH4 leads to the whole cast of nasty oxides you get with every thing else.
Good news: Engineers in the UK are very talented. I watched a show on the national grid and was impressed about a story of pumped storage. When there is too much wind power being generated, the power is used to pump water uphill into reservoirs. Need a burst of power, open the gates at the hydro plant; generating and supplying the grid in 30 seconds. Yeah, yeah it's not super efficient, but it's simple, works and what the hell, the power isn't doing anything else. There's a grid sized battery that we have the technology for now. Let's build more. The added bonus is that we can restrict the flow of fresh water into the sea.
In the US there are also some good ideas on what to do with surplus wind power or generation at sites that are inconveniently far from users. Take some water and some air, apply the Haber-Bosch process and you have ammonia. A nice convenient liquid that can be used as a cleaning agent, a fertilizer and the feed stock for di-methyl-ester, a substitute for diesel. We'll just down play ammonia's use in explosives. There are studies that show that producing ammonia with wind turbines can be more profitable than selling the electricity to the grid.
I don't want to see power companies get nationalized. That would throw a spanner into the works worse than the greed of the corporate bosses. There is also a good case of not leaving electricity to twist in the wind of market forces, speculation and the aforementioned corporate greed. All I know is that electricity (energy, if you want an all encompassing term) is vital to the health of an economy. I should say that steady and consistent cost for electricity is healthy for an economy. Small increases from time to time can be absorbed, but large swings create problems.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to an energy policy. It will take a whole menu of generation, storage and supply technologies. There always seems to be loads of argument that one technology or another will not work in a certain area or won't fulfill all of the future needs, but there doesn't need to be ONE technology to fit everything. Solar where solar will work, wind where there is wind, tidal power, geothermal, nuclear, natural gas and even coal. I'm not opposed to putting prison inmates in giant hamster wheels connected to generators. Whatever works.