Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Is Toshiba's nuclear project really cheaper than Hinkley C?

Evidence from the USA casts a lot of doubt on hopes that the AP1000 design promoted by Toshiba for the planned 3.4 GW development in Cumbria will be cheaper than Hinkley C. Toshiba, the majority owners of the NuGen franchise, and hopeful developers of the plant say they will ask for a lower price than the £92.50 given for Hinkley C. Well, good luck to Toshiba in finding investors, even though, no doubt they will (like Hinkley C but unlike renewable energy schemes) be offered a very valuable amount of loan guarantees from the UK Treasury and extra long premium price power purchase agreements that last 35 years.

Cost overruns for the first nuclear power plant being started in 30 years in the USA, in Georgia, are already mounting, and the project, now well over $14 billion for the 2.2 GWe development, hardly looks cheaper than  than Hinkley C. Indeed, given that the projected costs of building Hinkley C (not including the money already spent) is around £3.9 billion per GWe you could argue that the equivalent cost of the AP1000 Vogtle project in Georgia is already more expensive than Hinkley C, GWe for GWe!

In Georgia there is a retail monopoly and state regulations allow consumers to be charged money while the plant is actually being built - a form of automatic cost recovery. The developers get paid even though no revenue is actually generated!

There are efforts to build nuclear a nuclear plant in North Carolina (with consumers being asked to pay extra in advance as in the case of Georgia), but the much hyped nuclear renaissance is just not happening in the USA. Indeed, nuclear generation is actually falling in the US. The reasons given for all of this is that natural gas prices have fallen, dishing plans for new nuclear reactors. However the decline in natural gas prices in the USA does not seem to have stopped the continued expansion of building of wind power and solar pv across the USA. Georgia appears to be the only place in the USA that is clearly bucking the trend, and that may have something to do with the fact that wind and solar developers in the state cannot get hold of power purchase agreements at practically any price whilst nuclear developers get paid without producing any electricity at all!

Toshiba appear very confident about their NuGen development, but they will need investors, which may be hard to find, unless the UK Government gives a virtual 100 per cent blank cheque through a loan guarantee as opposed to the 65 per cent guarantee offered for Hinkley C. Investment from British electricity companies seems unlikely, although maybe, like EDF, Toshiba can fix up an agreement with Chinese companies........hmmmm, there's some interesting politics there that may make it a long shot! But even then, with a project that may (especially after more experience building the project in Georgia) not be plausible with a much reduced price compared to Hinkley C, this looks quite shaky.

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