On Thursday, the Gloucestershire Echo published an article with the headline Hundreds of jobs at risk in Gloucester after work on Welsh nuclear plant suspended. The story relayed how the suspension of work at Wylfla will impact us locally, as one of the firms working on the plant, Horizon, is based in Brockworth. On top of this, the Guardian reported that this meant that plans for a second plant at Oldbury will also be shelved.
This issue goes far beyond the Echo’s simple headline however. Undoubtedly, the loss of jobs is a serious and regrettable thing, but something not explored here is what harm would be caused if the building of these plants were to go ahead. The issues here are a microcosm of this government’s failings: lack of action on protecting our environment; private companies receiving generous taxpayer subsidy; the continuing failure of the UK’s energy market.
Hitachi pulled out of the deal to build the plants as they were not satisfied with the deal on offer. Speaking in the House of Commons, Business Secretary Greg Clarke confirmed the government had offered Hitachi a “generous” package to develop Wylfa Newydd, including proposals for the government to take a one third equity stake in the scheme, commit to providing all the debt financing for construction, and offer a Contract for Difference power contract worth £75/MWh. In other words, as with other failed privatisation deals, the taxpayer was to take on the risk and provide subsidy, whilst the commercial enterprise was to take home any profits. The arguments here are well trodden, but ultimately underwriting the profits of a private company has proved to be a bad investment time and time again. We Own It are a great resource for discussions on why public ownership of our own infrastructure is a victory for common sense.
One thing that private ownership of our utilities has failed to deliver is investment in renewable energy. When faced with the decision to increase shareholder dividends or attempt to fight back against climate chaos, the profit incentive drives the energy companies in the direction of the former. We need to drastically cut carbon emissions across the board if we are to have any hope of averting the worst of a climate disaster, but nuclear power would massively limit our ability to do that. Building new nuclear would only take time, money and resources away from other forms of power that would contribute far more to cutting our emissions.
Despite the headlines, the move away from building expensive, subsidised nuclear plants is a positive one. The febrile political atmosphere could soon see the election of a transformative Labour government. One where jobs are not lost because deals are not ‘generous’ enough for the private sector, but one where jobs are created as Labour spearhead an economic revolution focussed on tackling climate chaos. Renewable investment is needed, and this investment can be realised in the towns and cities that have been neglected for so long. In contrast to this latest Conservative debacle, Labour plan to create jobs, tackle climate change and invest in our communities, rather than merely propping up the profits of multinational corporations.
Adam Van Coevorden, 17 January 2019
This article was published in the Morning Star on 21 January 2019: