EDF’s chief financial officer, Thomas Piquemal, has left the company following conflict over the decision to push forward with construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset.
Piquemal believed that the final decision over investment in the Hinkley Point should be delayed by at least another three years and made his position clear to the energy giant’s chief executive Jean-Bernard Lévy last week.
Mr Lévy disagreed, instead arguing for a final decision to be made within the next month. As a result, Piqeumal announced his resignation, effective immediately, over sincerely held concerns that pushing forward with the Hinkley project could jeopardise the entire company’s financial position.
EDF’s finances are far from perfect as it stands – their market value of €18.5 billion is far overshadowed by its net debt of €37 billion – and following Piquemal’s resignation, share prices fell by 6.5%.
Lévy said, in a statement emailed to staff and shareholders, that he would be pressing on in attempting to finalise investment as soon as possible nonetheless.
He said: “With the support of its state shareholder [the French government owns 85% of EDF], EDF confirms it is studying the investment in the two Hinkley Point reactors in the best financial conditions for the group, with the aim of announcing a final investment decision soon.”
Xavier Caroen, analyst at broker agency Bryan Garnier, was reported by Reuters as describing Piquemal’s departure as “clearly negative”.
He said: “The CFO was pushing for a three year delay to make a final decision on this project, while Levy, notably urged by the French government, was pushing for a short term decision.
Piquemal had long been critical of the Hinkley project, the cost of which is currently estimated to be around £18 billion (€23.36 billion). His resignation is demonstrative of rifts within EDF that have been growing as more and more obstacles are faced in the way of investment in and construction of the plant.
Investment in the plant was more or less secured back in October last year, when Chinese energy company CGN announced that it would be purchasing a 33.5% stake in the project, prompting EDF to all but confirm that work would be starting imminently. However now, six months down the line, final contracts remain unsigned, and the future of the entire project remains largely up in the air.
A large part of the scepticism surrounding the Hinkley Point project comes from the EPR (European/Evolutionary Pressurised Reactor) at the centre of the plan.
The EPR is as yet unproven – there are currently no working plants using it and those under construction have been plagued with delays and general technical issues.
The first EPR plant in the world, Olkuluto 3 in Finland, has so far cost €5 billion more than initially intended, and is a decade behind schedule. Another EPR project in France has also faced delays and the French nuclear regulating body found “serious anomalies” in the plant’s reactor vessel.
Avera, the company behind the EPR design who were commissioned with building the core at Hinkley Point, had to be bailed out by the state last year, further shaking the financial foundation of the entire project and casting doubt over investment.