Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Hinkley C given consent for second time in 23 years

Today's 'second coming' for planning consent for a third nuclear power station at Hinkley Point probably means no more than the first consent for 'Hinkley C' given in 1990. The main difference is that there is a bit more hype about its prospects this time. But there are a lot of similarities between the two consents.

In 1990 the electricity industry was privatised and set up for liberalisation which meant that the newly privatised electricity companies could not pass on the investment risks and costs of building the power plant onto consumers. The planning consent for Hinkley C in September 1990 came shortly after the new electricity companies had said they could not afford to build more nuclear power stations under liberalised, competitive, conditions. The state directed blank cheque which had previously funded nuclear power and hid its immense costs had disappeared. The commercial basis for the power station disappeared with this. Despite planning consent being given Hinkley C was never built. History looks like being repeated.

Now, under Electricity Market Reform nuclear power is being allowed access to the same subsidy stream as renewable energy. Yet, the Government is now finding that this is not enough. You can see in earlier blog posts how high strike prices, incredibly long contracts to pay them and 'underwriting' guarantees (entrees to another blank cheque) are being demanded by EDF as the price for building the power station. The exact orchestration of how EDF and the Government will attempt to divert attention from the fact that Hinkley C will not be built in the forseeable future (at least) is still open to doubt, but not the outcome that the scheme is a dead duck.

The Treasury and DECC appear to be involved in an argument about who is to blame. In fact the interests that are most to blame are the nuclear industry who, despite 60 years of evidence, refuse to believe that their technology is uneconomic. Indeed, if you compare the inflation-adjusted costs of 'Sizewell B', the last nuclear power station to be built in the UK (to which the 1990 planning consented Hinkley C was supposed to be a successor), and the reported capital costs of EDF's Hinkley C, there is not much difference in terms of billions per GW. The main difference is that there was a lot of wishful thinking in between. You can read an announcement from 'Construction News' about the last time Hinkley C was given planning consent here:


Will there be another planning consent given to a Hinkley C in another 23 years? Hopefully not - even the UK will most likely be a lot wiser by then.

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