Plans to build the £2.8Bn power transmission line connecting NuGen’s delayed Moorside project have been put on hold by National Grid so that it can align its plans with those of developer NuGen which have already been put on-hold. NuGen has been forced to undertake a ‘strategic review of options’ following the financial meltdown of Moorside’s sole investor Toshiba and the bankruptcy of its subsidiary Westinghouse who was to supply the AP1000 reactors for the project.
Following public pressure, National Grid’s North West Coast Connections project (NWCC) would see a quarter of the 102 mile connection run underground in areas adjacent to the Lake District National Park – at a cost of close to 0.5 £Billion. The remaining length of connection will employ the highly controversial giant pylons and a £1.5 Bn tunnel under Morecambe Bay. During its last public consultation which finished in early January this year having drawn some 8000 responses, National Grid re-confirmed that with NuGen being the sole benefactor of the NWCC project, plans for the connection would be scrapped if Moorside did not go ahead.
NuGen’s announcement in early May that it was carrying out a review of its options following what it described as ‘shareholder and vendor challenges on the project’ came hard on the heels of a Sunday Times article reporting that NuGen had told suppliers that it would have to slash spending on the project and had advised staff seconded to the project from other firms to return to their companies.
This followed the admission by NuGen in late March that its submission to the Planning Inspectorate for a Development Consent Order (DCO) for Moorside planned for the second quarter of 2017, had been delayed to an unspecified date – a delay widely expected to be at least 6 months. CEO Tom Samson has said that NuGen will have a clearer idea of timescales for the Moorside project – optimistically costed at between £10-£15Bn but likely to top £20Bn – by the middle of this year. Meanwhile, National Grid’s DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate, planned to be made in parallel with that of Nugen, is now also on the back-burner.
Another casualty of NuGen’s faltering progress are the 1200 respondents to its Stage 2 public consultation which finished at the end of July 2016. Today, almost 10 months later, the consultation feedback report promised by NuGen for ‘Autumn 2016’ has still not materialised and neither has NuGen indicated that it will hold the further consultation called for by CORE, local authorities and others to make up for the lack of detailed information provided in the Stage 2 consultation documents. These failures, in tandem with NuGen’s current Strategic Review of options, designed ‘to provide a more robust, stable and sustainable platform to meet its commitment to deliver the next generation of nuclear power’ has left those respondents not only in a NuGen no-man’s land but also questioning the merit of having already spent time and effort on responding to a project that now appears not only less than robust but also unstable and unsustainable.
Whilst Moorside’s ongoing investment turmoil could yet result in the rejection of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in favour of another reactor type (with South Korea’s APR1400 reactor as front-runner), Toshiba has pledged to stay with NuGen for the time being, but will take no part in any construction work at Moorside and remains keen to sell its stake in the project. Failing for the third time to meet the deadline for filing audited annual accounts with the Tokyo Stock Exchange – the auditors Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) still trying to unravel the Westinghouse bankruptcy – Toshiba advised yesterday that it is set to make a £6.5Bn loss for the year 2016-17.