EDF chief confident of Hinkley Point nuclear power station go-ahead
The chief executive of French energy giant EDF has expressed confidence that the multibillion-pound Hinkley Point nuclear power station will go ahead despite a fresh delay in making a final investment decision.
Vincent de Rivaz told MPs on the Energy and Climate Change Committee that money was in place and no project had been better prepared.
But the company had decided to consult French trade unions after some of them called for a delay of two to three years because of concerns over the impact of the firm's finances on pressing ahead with the development in Somerset.
The consultation started on May 2, and could take 60 days to complete, he said, adding that he wanted a final decision to be taken "the sooner the better".
Mr de Rivaz told the committee in March that Hinkley Point would definitely go ahead, pointing to a speech by French economy minister Emmanuel Macron that the final investment decision would be made in early May.
But Mr Macron later said the green light may not be given until September.
In a letter to the committee, Mr Macron said that owing to the importance of the project, EDF had decided to promote "exemplary labour/management dialogue" by consulting the Central Works Committee on the project.
The French authorities remained "fully behind" Hinkley, said Mr Macron, adding: "I can appreciate that a certain amount of impatience may be creeping in as the project is key for the UK's energy and climate policy.
"It is also necessary, in the interest of all, that EDF follows due process before committing itself to an investment of this magnitude. The consultation of the Central Works Committee brings legal robustness on the decision.
"I have every confidence that a final investment decision can be made rapidly after the end of the consultation of the Central Works Committee and that it will signal the development of a very fruitful collaboration in the industrial and energy sectors between our two countries."
Mr de Rivaz told MPs there was a "difference of opinion" with some French unions over Hinkley, adding: "We hope those differences will be resolved during the consultation."
He said he understood the "impatience" of the MPs on the delay. "The team has the same impatience, but we have to remain calm."
Mr de Rivaz said the £18 billion cost of the project had not changed and still had the full support of the French government and partners, the China General Nuclear Power Corporation.
He insisted the project was not on hold, and "everything was set" for power to be generated by 2025.
Mr de Rivaz ended an hour-long session by telling the committee that EDF was not going to "give up" on Hinkley, although he understood the impatience of politicians and that people were worried.
Pressed on the timing of a final investment decision, he said it would be "very rapid" after the 60-day consultation with French unions.
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom told the MPs that the Government was "fully confident" that the Hinkley project will go ahead.
"We are confident that EDF is fully committed to Hinkley Point. I have visited the site and was overwhelmed by the massive amount of work going on."
She said there was no cost to UK billpayers until Hinkley starts producing electricity, so there was no question of the Government issuing a "blank cheque".
The minister also expressed confidence that any challenge from Austria to the European Commission on state aid had no merit.
It was "quite right" that EDF wanted to consult its workforce, she added.
The minister said no single project would destabilise the UK's energy system and pledged that the Government would not allow the lights to go out.
The Energy Department's main functions were ensuring energy security, keeping costs down and de-carbonisation, which were all "ticked" by nuclear.
The Government was committed to Hinkley providing 7% of the UK's energy needs, added the minister.
Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace's chief scientist, said: "Hinkley Point C is far from ready. There are massive barriers to it delivering power to the UK within the next decade. A major issue is the fact that the EDF board, engineers and unions are yet to be convinced that building Hinkley is even possible, and just trying to build it could bankrupt the company.
"Vincent de Rivaz's confidence might be heartwarming for blind enthusiasts but he wasn't even able to give a date when the company would meet to decide whether or not to go ahead with building the power station. This lack of conviction starkly contradicts his own much repeated assertion that no project is as ready as Hinkley.
"The Government needs an urgent rethink on Hinkley before we get tied into paying French and Chinese state-owned companies colossal sums of money."