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The wrong kind of power politics

August 2, 2016

 

The main problem, as a commodity futures broker eloquently put it during a recent television interview, is that energy is all over the place - commercially speaking.

 

So it’s a safe bet that matters haven’t been helped by the government’s sudden ambiguity about the proposed nuclear expansion deal at Hinkley Point.

 

I suppose it was inevitable that the new incumbent at Downing Street would want to put her stamp on one policy conundrum or other. The Somerset facility is a big call and by no means as straightforward as some would have you believe.

 

An opposition politician pointed out to me recently that Hinkley Point C is likely to be the most expensive power station ever built. The total cost will come to more than the 2012 Olympics, Crossrail and Heathrow’s Terminal 5 projects lumped together.

 

But it’s not just the price tag. Britain is nowhere near being energy self-sufficient. Decisions that keep the lights on are currently made in Frankfurt, Paris and Abu Dhabi. Now Hong Kong is to be added to the mix.

 

Business and trade unions want Hinkley Point built. It is precisely the massive capital project that puts cash into the economy and food on the construction industry's table.

 

Treasury civil servants like the idea too because it means the bill will be passed on to consumers, not government's finances.

 

The gigantic reactor will deliver 7% of our electricity when most other nuclear power stations will have reached the end of their operational life.

 

The delay in signing off is understandably causing mild panic in an energy sector that already has severe problems.

 

After a brief resurgence, oil prices have fallen to another three-month low. The reason being on-going concerns about global oversupply.

 

This slump leaves volatile economies in Russia, Venezuela and the Middle East unable to compensate for lost revenue. The downturn is also decimating parts of the US where big money has previously gone into the fracking boom.

 

Energy investors are looking for less risky ventures.

 

The arguments in favour of Hinkley Point are not just economic. Once on-line say its proponents, the station will enable the UK to reach its carbon emission reduction targets. Ironic or what?

 

The same backers point out that renewables are becoming a less attractive long term proposition. Southern Australia has found 40% energy sourced from wind and solar sources to be unsustainable. A switch back to fossil fuels seems likely in some cases.

 

No-one is suggesting that Hinkley Point is going through the same kind of extended review process that affects the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. What they do have in common though is that whatever the generating method used, energy projects are inherently unpredictable in terms of outcome and delivery.

 

No doubt Theresa May will be acutely aware of this but such decisions come with the territory. Her task now is to assure global players that the economic uncertainty associated with Brexit is transitional. Delaying the deal has done little towards achieving that objective.

 

 

 

 

Counting on further achievements

 

It’s sometimes easy to overlook that the growth we’re seeing in higher education regionally is as much to do with current achievement as future ambition.

 

 

 For example, Swansea University’s computer science department is already ranked first in Wales and seventh in the UK, according to the Times Good University Guide. Their aim is to become established among the top 200 global universities.

 

The way forward is a £31m Computational Foundry at the new Bay Campus. The facility gained planning consent from Neath Port Talbot council a few months ago and will house world-class research leaders drawn from computer and mathematical sciences.

 

Vice-chancellor Professor Richard B Davies, talks about “a global destination for researchers, students, and industrial partners” in his presentations. This explains why teams have already visited the US to link up with key hi-tech companies such as Google and Microsoft.

 

The cranes are in position and I understand building work will begin on site this November.

 

 

 

 

Bringing back the prestige

 

I’d very much like to add my congratulations to the accolades already given to the organisers of last week’s Lord Mayor’s Summer Honours Ball.

 

 

This uniquely Swansea event not only recognised accomplishments of household names such as Catherine Zeta Jones, Bonnie Tyler and Huw Edwards. It also celebrated the work of our indomitable poppy sellers who stand out in all weathers to help others.

 

It’s been some time since I’ve seen Brangwyn Hall so full for such an occasion.

 

I was delighted to sponsor a category on a glittering night that not only showcased our talent but raised a tidy sum for charity into the bargain.

 

Lord Mayor David Hopkins looked very much the relaxed studio host during his video clips. He also managed to floor Kevin John with a surprise award – no mean feat in itself.

 

Thanks again to Rob Stewart and his team for a night that undoubtedly boosted civic prestige.

 

 

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