Steerpike

Ed Davey’s nuclear U-turn

Ed Davey's nuclear U-turn
(Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Sir Ed Davey has called on the government to ‘keep the British taxpayer out of’ the Sizewell C nuclear plant, arguing that a part nationalisation of the project would ‘be a total betrayal of taxpayers and cost every household in Britain a small fortune’. Ministers are reportedly considering plans to strip the Chinese state-owned energy firm CGN of its 20 per cent stake, bringing the costs onto the Exchequer’s books.

Mr S is pleased to see the Liberal Democrat leader stand as a lone voice for fiscal prudence — particularly because he hasn’t always been opposed to cripplingly costly nuclear deals.

Between 2012 and 2015, Davey served as secretary of state for energy in the coalition government. In 2013, he agreed to the controversial Hinkley Point C deal — now the most expensive power station in the world — alongside the majority state-owned French energy firm EDF and China’s CGN. Part of that agreement saw Davey commit to a minimum price of £92.50 per megawatt hour for 35 years. Any difference between the market price and the agreed £92.50 price would be topped up by, err, those very same British taxpayers. According to the latest Ofgem estimates, wholesale electricity currently costs £64.47 per MWh. The National Audit Office, meanwhile, estimates that the project could cost British taxpayers as much as £50 billion, more than eight times the initial estimate of £6 billion. 

A former director of EDF, Gérard Magnin, said the exorbitant project was seen by EDF as ‘a way to make the British fund the renaissance of nuclear in France,’ adding: ‘We cannot be sure that in 2060 or 2065, British pensioners, who are currently at school, will not still be paying for the advancement of the nuclear industry in France.’ At the time, Davey defended the deal, calling it 'a milestone on the road to decarbonisation'. Mr S wonders whether he still considers his deal to be a 'milestone' or whether he now thinks of it as a ‘total betrayal’ of the British taxpayer…

In fact, Sir Ed isn’t a stranger to the ‘small fortunes’ involved in the nuclear industry. After losing his seat in 2015, Davey went on to work for MHP Communications, a lobbying firm whose clients include — you guessed it — EDF, the very same French company that won his eye-watering Hinkley deal. Perhaps the Lib Dem leader could address his own radioactive past?

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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