Following the handing over to foreign interests of Britain’s power industry RWE npower and its partner E.ON, both German, announced on 29 March that they will not develop new nuclear power projects in this country. They were due to start building plants in Anglesey and at Oldbury near Bristol but now say that raising finance for power projects has become difficult because of the global financial crisis. Energy minister Charles Hendry described the decision, with its implications for Britain’s looming energy gap, as “disappointing”.
The announcement effectively left the market for commissioning new nuclear stations in the hands of just two French companies: EDF, which bought British Energy in 2008 and now provides power to a quarter of Britain’s population; and GDF Suez, which was formed in 2008 from the merger of state-owned Gaz de France with water, waste and energy company Suez.
On 16 April GDF Suez joined the chorus of gloom, with its chairman calling for a guaranteed minimum price for any power produced from its proposed new plant in Cumbria. In effect, it is calling for the British taxpayer to guarantee its profits. The French state still holds a large chunk of the now-privatised combined company.
Four days later, Centrica – through a joint venture with EDF the only British company still involved in proposals for nuclear construction – said it might pull out of its partnership with EDF, citing lack of assurances about the future price of energy.
The government still maintains all is well and that there are plans for 16 gigawatts of new nuclear plant. But the bleak truth is that energy companies realise they have Britain over a barrel. They are prepared to hold us to ransom in order to ensure greater profits for their foreign owners. In the absence of any firm plans to build new nuclear stations, the lights will start going out in five or six years’ time.
In a more positive endorsement of the country’s future, British firm 2Co Energy, with minority partner Samsung, will be building a £5 billion power station and carbon capture and storage project in South Yorkshire. The Don Valley Power Project will supply low carbon electricity to one million homes from the end of 2016 and create 2,800 construction jobs, with another 500 when the plant is in operation. It will also secure the future of the adjacent Hatfield Colliery. ■