This seemed strange, since the road had been resurfaced only a few years ago – certainly more recently than the High Street, for instance.
The street was duly closed and contractors moved in to rip up the tarmac. Then the gas and water companies appeared, and it looked like the gas and water mains got covered with a protective layer of concrete before the new surface was put on. This seemed strange too, because up until then no attention had ever been paid to our gas or water mains unless they were actually leaking.
A neighbour suggested that this was all to do with the proposed construction of a massive new nuclear power station on the coast at Hinkley Point, and then it started to make sense. Chilkwell Street, along with Bere Lane and Magdalene Street (which had received the same treatment), together form the route round the edge of Glastonbury that carries traffic from Frome (and from the stone quarries in the Mendip hills) along the A361 and out to the M5.
This is the route to Hinkley Point, and people started talking seriously about the 400 aggregate lorries a day that are expected down our street if construction goes ahead. That’s a heavy truck every one or two minutes, and presumably the same coming back in the other direction. Hinkley Point C would be the second largest construction site in the whole of Europe, and work would go on for ten years.
The road works were completed, with nice new tarmac – which apparently includes a high rubber content, designed to reduce noise and vibration (though I haven’t noticed the difference regarding the excessive amount of heavy traffic that already passes our front door). Talking to friends, I discovered that similar roadworks had been going on elsewhere in the county, particularly around Bridgewater. It looks serious.
I did wonder who was paying for all this. I get the impression that it’s not the County Council, whose support for the building of Hinkley C is no doubt encouraged by a lot of expensive infrastructure work being provided either by central government or by EDF (Electricité de France), the major player in plans to construct and run the proposed new power station.
Around that time, activists (including personal friends) briefly occupied the empty farmhouse on the farm that has become the potential construction site. They were swiftly removed after EDF took them to court, and this was followed by an EDF poster campaign around Somerset encouraging us to think kindly on the supposed benefits provided by nuclear power. I was certainly sympathetic to the occupation, but I didn’t get involved because I’d made the decision a few years back to give up taking part in adversarial politics, which tends to polarise people, upsetting as many as it inspires, and which requires a great deal of (human) energy input for no certain result at all.
Now I am reading my local newspaper. They have a whole page about Hinkley Point that tells me some remarkable things - such as that Centrica (British Gas), which has a 20% stake in the project, is thinking of pulling out.
And then that EDF is short of money “following government-enforced spending on reactors in France after the Fukushima atomic disaster”. They are presumably also under pressure from their French bankers, who have had a few problems of their own in recent times.
EDF are consequently looking for new investment partners – notably the Chinese. Various British MPs and energy advisers are alarmed at the “security risk” posed by the Communist Chinese potentially having access to “the intricate architecture of the UK’s national grid and the processes through which electricity supply is controlled, as well as to the UK’s nuclear technology.”
But besides all this, “communities hosting renewable energy plant” (I think they mean wind farms) “get more compensation than those around nuclear plants,” and this imbalance is particularly marked in the planning agreement between EDF and Somerset councils, which is close to being finalised.
To cap it all, EDF are demanding that once the new reactors are operating they should receive a guaranteed payment more than three times the current market price for electricity, a price equivalent to the notoriously subsidised amount charged by expensive offshore wind farms. If the market price doesn’t rise to meet the guaranteed price, the government would have to make up the difference.
Meanwhile, all this infrastructure work, and indeed preliminary work on site at Hinkley itself, is going ahead without formal planning consent, never mind the promised public enquiry; and, with cost estimates rising, EDF and Centrica are still “to decide [later] this year whether to proceed with construction.”
It seems that our government, if it can’t or won’t invest in sensible renewable energy on a scale that would make it viable, and having committed itself to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, will be forced to pay out billions to support the nuclear industry.
Maybe the whole mad scheme will fall through; but if not, back home in Chilkwell Street I’m beginning to think that this is an issue worth making a big fuss about. And I suspect there may be lots of people thinking much the same.