Greenpeace, German utilities launch suit against UK nuclear plant

Hinkley Point [Mark Robinson/Flickr]

Greenpeace and nine German and Austrian utilities selling renewable energy said on Thursday (2 July) they are launching legal action against state aid for a new British nuclear power plant, which was approved by the European Commission.

Greenpeace and the others in the group said at a news briefing that the lawsuit would be filed with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in the coming days, over the Hinkley Point C project in southwest England.

It would be based on the argument that billions of euros of subsidies for nuclear energy would distort prices in mainland European power markets, which are linked to those in Britain via a small French interconnector.

“We are complaining against these boundless nuclear subsidies, because from an ecological and macro-economic viewpoint, they appear senseless and bring substantial financial disadvantages for other energy suppliers, renewable energies and for consumers,” said Soenke Tangermann, managing director of the Greenpeace Energy co-operative.

The project, due to be built by French utility EDF, is deemed crucial for Britain’s plan to replace a fifth of its nuclear power and coal plants in the coming decade.

Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear and to focus on wind and solar power sets it at odds with decisions in Britain and France to invest in emissions-free nuclear, which they have chosen to play a major role in combating climate change.

The European Commission last year approved state aid for the £16 billion pound (€22.5 billion) Hinkley Point plan.

EU member states can choose their individual power generation mix, but have to obey rules respecting the European drive for harmonised internal markets.

The campaigners said price guarantees for Hinkley Point C’s output, calculated over 35 years, would amount to €108 billion while state guarantees for the construction of the reactor exceeded another €20 billion.

They said the Hinkley Point C could become a precedent for nuclear projects in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which would run counter to Germany’s intended transition to a renewable-based energy future.

Artificially low prices of electricity derived from subsidised nuclear plants would push up prices German consumers were paying for green energy, they said.

Greenpeace Energy supplies 111,000 customers with renewable power.

The other nine companies in the alliance are Energieversorgung Filstal, municipal utilities (called Stadtwerke) of Aalen, Bietigheim-Bissingen, Bochum, Mainz, Muehlacker, Schwaebisch Hall and Tuebingen, and Austria’s oekostrom. 

>>Read: Commission faces EU court over aid to Britain’s Hinkley Point nuclear plant

If built, Hinkley would be the first British nuclear reactor since Sizewell B in 1995. Because of the 35-year length of its operating contract, and the 10 years it would take to build, its cost and policy implications stretch far into the future.

The deal allows French-owned electricity generator EDF to be guaranteed £92.50 per megawatt hour over the 35-year life of the Hinkley plant.

This subsidy, twice the current price of electricity, will be paid out of household energy bills.

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