If you think the London super-sewer is merely the exception in Tory privatisation economics, dream on. It’s more the norm in a whole string of colossal financial scams, all put in place secretly and never sent to Parliament for approval. Another flagrant example of privatising the gains and socialising the losses is the nuclear power station planned at Hinkley Point C in Somerset at a cost of £24.5bn, three times the original proposal, and using the UK taxpayer to guarantee to its French builder EDF a price per unit of output no less than double its current UK wholesale price. The government agreed this in November 2011, yet since then wholesale power prices have fallen by 16%; nevertheless the Tories are still guaranteeing the price of £92.50 a megawatt hour, inflation-linked for 35 years and funded through household bills. So far from being the heroes of competition as they regularly claim, the Tories are driving a pernicious, underhand contempt for market forces to subsidise State-owned foreign companies whilst refusing to offer the same aid to a UK State-owned venture for the same project.
Just how bad a deal this is is shown by the fact that Hinkley will provide just 3 gigawatts of capacity, yet for the same price gas-fired turbines could provide about 50 gigawatts, onshore wind 20 and offshore wind 10. The plant will not open till 2023 at the earliest, well past the date of the most acute energy shortage at the end of this decade. And it will cost as much as the combined bill for Crossrail, the London Olympics and the revamped Terminal 2 at Heathrow – beat that for the most expensive white elephant of modern times!
It’s an anachronistic behemoth from the bygone age of energy dinosaurs when the world is rapidly moving towards distributed power via renewable energy. It’s far too costly, and is it even needed? First there is the UK’s declining demand for power, currently falling at a rate of 1% a year as energy-saving measures steadily take effect. Then there is the expected threefold jump in the UK’s Interconnection capacity with continental Europe by 2022 which increases the ability to import cheaper supplies. And third there is the litany of setbacks in price overruns and huge delays that have afflicted Finland, France and China over EDF’s European Pressurised Reactor which is the same type as is planned for Hinkley Point.
However nothing distracts the Tory nose from a good old-fashioned financial fix behind the scenes, especially when in this case it plays to their abhorrence of UK State involvement in meeting a public need. So Cameron is off to Beijing in October to sign a final deal wit the Chinese president from which only Chinese investors will gain at UK taxpayer expense.