EDF's proposed nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point has the support of the French government, according to its economy minister, but legal action could be taken in the UK and France if either country provides state aid for the project.
EDF extended the generating lifespan of four of its UK nuclear power plants in February by up to seven years amid rumours that it is struggling to find the cash to pay for Hinkley Point C.
The £18bn project is one of eight announced by the British government in 2010 designed to replace the UK’s ageing fossil fuel power plants. Longannet power station, Scotland’s last remaining coal-fired facility, shut down after 46 years of operation last month.
However, Greenpeace and green energy company Ecotricity - who remain ideologically opposed to the project - have raised the prospect of lodging a complaint at the European Commission (EC) if any state aid is granted by France or the UK. Such an action would trigger an investigation by the EC.
Their statement of intent came just before yesterday’s announcement by EDF that it was delaying its final investment decision on the project until September, despite originally promising to do so by March.
EDF’s reported difficulties raising the funds to pay for the project, which will also be one-third owned by China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation, could be alleviated by a state aid package from either the UK or from the French government, which already owns 85 per cent of the company.
Greenpeace and Ecotricity have published a legal opinion on any package of financial support for EDF from the French government, which they claimed could have "major implications" for the facility’s construction.
The legal opinion, by competition and EU law barristers Jon Turner QC, Ben Rayment and Julian Gregory, said the French government's reported refinancing plans for EDF are likely to be illegal under EU law unless they are approved by the EC.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director, said: "The only way Hinkley can be kept alive is on the life support machine of state aid.
"EDF, if it is to stay in business, needs a new vision which is not looking backwards. The UK government needs to stop penalising the UK renewable energy industry in favour of propping up an ailing state-owned nuclear industry in France."
France's economy minister Emmanuel Macron has insisted the project must not be further delayed and has noted his support for the project.
The Somerset-based nuclear power plant could ultimately produce seven per cent of British electricity and create 25,000 jobs, according to EDF. It had been due to start producing electricity in 2023, but this date now seems unlikely to be reached.