The European Court of Justice on 22 September rejected Austria's appeal against the European Commission's (EC’s) 2014 decision to approve UK government aid for the construction of two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point C, in Somerset, England.
The project is being developed by a joint venture between the French power company EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation. The aid was intended for the future plant operator NNB Generation Company Limited, a subsidiary of EDF Energy.
The Court of Justice said in a press release that three measures were at issue. “The first of the measures at issue is a ‘contract for difference’, which is intended to ensure price stability for electricity sales during the operational phase of Hinkley Point C. The second is an agreement between NNB Generation’s investors and the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, guaranteeing compensation in the event of an early shutdown of the nuclear power station on political grounds. The third consists of a credit guarantee by the United Kingdom on bonds to be issued by NNB Generation and is intended to ensure the timely payment of principal and interest of qualifying debt.”
The EC, in its decision, classified all three measures as “state aid compatible with the internal market”.
Austria sought but failed to reverse the decision at the General Court of the European Union, in 2018. Austria then appealed to the Court of Justice, which similarly dismissed the appeal. As was the case before the General Court, Luxembourg intervened in support of Austria in the proceedings before the Court of Justice, whereas the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the UK intervened in support of the EC.
European nuclear industry group Foratom said the ruling confirmed that EU member states are free to determine their own energy mix and cannot be prevented from choosing nuclear as an option.
“Given the challenges which member states are facing in terms of decarbonising their power sector, whilst maintaining security of supply, for many, and as indicated in their very recent national energy and climate plans, nuclear is seen as an important part of the solution”, said Foratom director-general Yves Desbazeille.
He said the ruling “sends the important message that whilst some member states may not wish to develop nuclear, they cannot prevent others from including it in their own low-carbon energy mix”.