So Osborne went on holiday to China and came back with an agreement to let Chinese companies run our nuclear power stations. This is trumpeted as a win for Britain. In fact, it is an abandonment of national sovereignty and another step towards handing our energy security to foreign interests.
One thing is sure: the proposed link up between China General Nuclear (state-owned) and EDF (85 per cent owned by the French state) to build the Hinckley C nuclear station will not bring any prices down. The British government has agreed to pay between £89.50 and £92.50 per kilowatt-hour – current wholesale rates for electricity are “just” £55 per kilowatt-hour – and to index those rates to inflation. It’s a licence to print money.
Nor will the deal solve the looming gap between the energy we need and the energy we can generate. Hinckley C will take at least a decade to build. A report from the Royal Academy of Engineering, published last month, says that as early as December 2015 Britain will be at risk of power cuts.
We’ve got the European Union to thank for that – by the end of December 2015 its Large Combustion Plant Directive will have forced 11 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations to close (losing capacity equivalent to more than three Hinckley Cs).
And it’s not even certain that the European Union will agree to the government’s Hinckley deal. Brussels has the power to stop the plan if it rules that its competition rules are being broken. You’d almost think Brussels wants our lights to go out.
All that leaves aside the question of whether workers will be able to afford to switch on their electricity anyway. With further price increases in the pipeline for the winter, a recent report by Which? revealed how energy prices have risen much more than the rate of inflation – by 137 per cent for gas and 66 per cent for electricity since 2001. Before the rises announced in October the average cost of gas and electricity per household was £118 a month, £1,420 a year.
The energy market is dominated by six companies – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE. Last year these six companies made £3.7 billion profit.
EDF says on its website that the new power station at Hinckley will bring 5,000 new jobs to Somerset. How many of them will go to Somerset, or even British, people, rather than to French and Chinese specialists?
Britain cannot let its energy be controlled from outside this country. A demand that British workers must be trained to build and run any new power stations would be a first step towards asserting our own control. ■