“You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies,” said Oscar Wilde. In the case of the UK government’s bid to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, the quality of its enemies suggests the plan is idiotic.
On Monday, the chancellor George Osborne announced £2bn in government loan guarantees in a bid to get the French-Chinese consortium behind Hinkley to finally commit to the much-delayed £24.5bn project.
Energy secretary, Amber Rudd, accompanying Osborne on his trip to China, said the new Hinkley plant was “reasonably priced and value for money” and would provide a chunk of the low-carbon electricity needed to meet the UK’s climate change targets. Last week, Vincent de Rivaz, the CEO of French energy company EDF, said the Hinkley deal was “the right technology, at the right price, at the right time”.
It’s true that the UK needs secure, low-carbon energy and that renewables are intermittent. The problem is that, apart from those with political or real capital riding on the deal, virtually no-one thinks the Hinkley plant is the answer.
Let’s start with well-known energy analyst Peter Atherton, who is no tree-hugger. He said the deal is “one of the worst ever signed by a British government”, who are buying the “most expensive conventional power station in the world”.
He calculated Hinkley would be pumping out vast profits by the end of the 35-year index-linked deal: £5bn a year, paid for by you and me. “The numbers are eyewateringly attractive for EDF and its partners; not so good for the national purse,” he said. Osborne’s loan guarantees – a taxpayer bailout for lenders if the project fails – are “a clear case of socialising risk and privatising profits”.
The hard-headed number crunchers at HSBC agree, noting the high costs and vast delays to EDF’s two other new plants in France and Finland: “We see ample reason for the UK government to delay or cancel the project.”
Turning to the sober suits at the Financial Times, the message remains the same: that the costs are far too high, more expensive than every kind of renewable energy, bar offshore wind. “Backing out might upset the French and embarrass the government. But a wish to spare ministerial blushes is no excuse for saddling the country with costs it cannot afford,” concluded the FT editorial.
There’s more. Lord Turnbull, who knows his way around Whitehall, having led the civil service, recently told Osborne the Hinkley deal was a “bottomless pit and a big white elephant”.
Another peer, Lord Howell is a former Conservative energy secretary, a fracking fan and also happens to be Osborne’s father-in-law. He warned the reactor design planned for Hinkley C has never “been completed successfully” and that it was “one of the worst deals ever” for British consumers and industry. Paul Massara, boss of RWE NPower, one of the UK’s Big Six, said: “We will look back and think that nuclear was a expensive mistake.”
You’ll notice that not one of these Hinkley enemies I have cited are green activists, whose opposition can perhaps be taken for granted. But even those environmentalists who did back the deal, enraging many of their colleagues, have changed their minds.
On Friday, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, and Chris Goodall declared: “Hinkley C bears all the distinguishing features of a white elephant: overpriced, overcomplicated and overdue. The delay [to 2023 at the earliest] that was announced recently should be the final straw. The government should kill the project.”
But as it stands, the government appears to be doing the opposite. It is not just trying to drag the Hinkley deal over the line, but is also aiming the get Chinese companies building other new reactors, of a completely different design.
Energy security is serious, affordability is serious and tackling global warming is serious. But when serious people queue up to condemn Hinkley as a colossal waste of time and money, risking security, affordability and the climate, ministers should swallow their pride and ditch it.
This content was originally published here.