+ + UPDATED + + - see below
Defence projects are the bane of the taxpayer's existence. (Along with NHS IT projects, PPS procurement etc etc etc). Astonishing delays, budget over-runs, faulty products - all followed by rinse-and-repeat with exactly the same contractors. Learn nothing; repeat; and get the same results. Never fails.
And now we have HMG's pathetic attempts to get a new generation of nukes up and running. I say 'new', but the EPR is by now a pile of discredited and distinctly old crap. And yet, conned by EDF, stitched up by George Osborne, bullied by Francois Hollande and betrayed by her own personal weakness of character, in 2016 Theresa May signed up for the Hinkley Point 'C' contract, the exact terms of which we may never learn: but we know enough to say they are awful. All the optionality - and it's very great indeed - lies with EDF. What's more, EDF knows that if it huffs and puffs and lies a bit more, it can get unilateral, favourable changes to this one-sided contract that are even further in its favour. For example, not long ago it obtained a three-year relaxation to the back-stop date for start-up, from 2033 to 2036. That's for a project it initially said would start up by year-end 2017! (sic)
So after this week's update from EDF, where are we now? Start-up-date maybe 2031 or 2032 ... cost, well anyone's guess really, but wildly higher than any number floated before. And this just days after HMG put around £2.5 bn cash (that's c.a.s.h., upfront, not just a high HPC-type electricity price) into Sizewell 'C', the next monstrous would-be product of EDF's nuclear fantasy. The big difference with SZC being that, unlike HPC where EDF has to swallow the over-runs, with SZC the taxpayer will do that because EDF has no intention of taking on any construction risk at all. And Boris signed up for that (not just May, then, who's an airbrained git).
Did I say EDF has to swallow the over-runs on HPC? Well, thus far, that's what the contract says and that's how it looks. But, lo! The contract doesn't commit them to finish the project at all ! They just don't get to sell that pre-priced electricity if they don't.
However, we can all picture the scene. It is 2034. HPC looks sort-of finished, but beneath those big domes and concrete silos, vital bits are not yet ready - and EDF knows full-well they ain't gonna be finished by 2036. So there will be no juicy, HMG-underwritten, 35-year electricity contract. They've been cap-in-hand to President Le Pen for more money, but she's sent them away empty-handed.
They know what to do. "Get Starmer in here" they shout, and he's duly brought in to hear their story.
"Look here, Starmer, we've run out of money. But you need the electricity really badly, right? This HPC delay, and the parallel delay at SZC, have already scuppered your energy strategy, which assumed that BOTH plants would be up and running by 2030! (aside: hah! that Ed Miliband, eh? Sucker!!) You've had three years of patchy blackouts already. So: we need another, errr, let's say £4bn - well, make it £5bn, what's that between friends, hmm? Now. Cash. And then - we PROMISE - we'll be up and running by Xmas 2037, just, errr, 20 years late. And we'll have another little meeting - about SZC - next month. Whadya say? You don't really want to leave this thing standing here like a radioactive white elephant, do you??"
Watch and wait...
UPDATE ... but you won't be waiting for long! See this story - published after I wrote the above post. You (maybe) read it here first