PARIS (Reuters) - French utility EDF (EDF.PA) has delayed the final investment decision for its Hinkley Point nuclear project in Britain until after its May 12 shareholders’ meeting to allow time to consult its works council, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron told parliament last month that a final investment decision on the 18 billion pound UK project would be taken by early May and that delaying the decision would create a strong risk that EDF (EDF.PA) could lose the contract.
The sources said EDF Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy told a board meeting on Friday afternoon that he had decided to consult the firm’s works council, which had threatened legal action unless it was allowed to give its view on the project.
“This procedure will take several weeks,” one of the sources said.
EDF declined to comment.
The new delay - several deadlines have passed without a decision in the past two years - will give EDF the chance to smooth relations with its unions, who consider the project so risky that it threatens the company’s survival.
Sources have told Reuters that at least five of the six union representatives on EDF’s 18-seat board plan to vote against the project and Force Ouvriere (FO), one of EDF’s more radical unions, has threatened to strike.
A third source said Levy wants to take time to appease the social climate at EDF, which is 85 percent state-owned.
Former chief financial officer Thomas Piquemal resigned over the project last month, while employee shareholders’ association EAS demands that the state buy out EDF’s minority shareholders, saying the government abuses its majority control to use EDF as a lever for its energy policy.
At a meeting at President Francois Hollande’s palace on Wednesday, the government did not agree on whether to give extra financial support for EDF, which is weighed down by 37 billion euros (£28.8 billion) of net debt and struggles with record-low power prices.
French media have reported that Macron is not in favour of recapitalising EDF now, because investments for Hinkley Point and a 50 billion euro upgrade of France’s nuclear reactors are several years away.
Greenpeace UK director John Sauven said the UK government urgently needs to back renewable energy as a more reliable alternative to nuclear.
Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Potter/Ruth Pitchford