Brexit Delays Leave U.K. Facing Risk of Higher Power Prices

(Bloomberg) -- Some projects to develop new power cables between the U.K. and France are on hold because of uncertainties related to Brexit, throwing into question the delivery of infrastructure intended to reduce electricity costs in the U.K.

Work continues on two new interconnectors that were already under construction between the countries. However, talks on three other subsea power lines have been suspended due to the prolonged wrangling between the U.K. and the European Union over their divorce.

The pause, caused by the French energy regulator’s decision not to rule on the benefits of new interconnectors with the U.K. until the final conditions of Brexit have been clarified, could mean higher power prices on the British market for several years.

Brexit Delays Leave U.K. Facing Risk of Higher Power Prices

“As the U.K. often benefits from low power prices from France, less interconnection with that country can inadvertently translate to higher power prices,” said Andreas Gandolfo, a London-based analyst at BloombergNEF.

Increased connectivity with neighboring countries is becoming more important as the European power market undergoes rapid change. Utilities are becoming reluctant to invest billions to replace coal-fired and nuclear plants that are edging closer to retirement age, while wind and solar power can experience significant fluctuations.

On Pause

Ofgem, the U.K. energy regulator, has so far approved nine interconnectors, which would more than triple capacity from the current 5 gigawatts, a spokeswoman said. Developers will need to work with governments and regulators in connecting countries to ensure that final approval is granted in those countries, she said.

French regulator CRE’s concern over Brexit uncertainty is delaying progress of the Fab Link, Aquind and GridLink.

Prime Minister Theresa May is still struggling to gather enough support to get her EU withdrawal agreement through a vote in the House of Commons by Friday. If her deal fails for a third time, the U.K. will be forced to choose between a potentially long delay to its departure and falling out of the EU without a deal on April 12. Either of those outcomes would deepen the uncertainty that’s affecting the development of this vital infrastructure.

“There is a pause on talks for new interconnectors in development to France until Brexit is sorted,” National Grid Plc said in response to questions from Bloomberg. The U.K. power-grid operator said it’s continuing with projects that are already underway, amounting to a 2.1 billion-pound ($2.8 billion) investment in cables to France, Norway and Denmark.

“There are significant benefits for consumers from greater interconnection, no matter what the Brexit outcome,” National Grid said.

Slipping Timetables

The construction of Fab Link, a 1.4-gigawatt subsea link between the South of England and the Normandy region in France, is due to start in 2020 and to be completed in 2023, according to its website. The project is being developed by French power-grid operator Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, Transmission Investment and Alderney Renewable Energy.

Achieving that timetable will ultimately depend on the review by the French energy regulator, an RTE spokeswoman said by email. A spokesman for Transmission Investment declined to comment on any delays to Fab Link.

GridLink, a 1.4-gigawatt power transmission cable between Kent and Dunkirk developed by Icon Infrastructure is due to be built between the end of 2020 and the end of 2023, according to its website. GridLink didn’t respond to a request for comment through its website.

The 2-gigawatt Aquind project is “progressing on all planned activities,” said a spokesman for the company, while declining to comment on the details of talks with the French and U.K. regulators. Based on environmental and permitting time lines, the company aims to make its final investment decision by the end of 2020 and commission the cable at the end of 2023. In a statement last October, Aquind said its target was to complete construction in 2022.

Insufficient Capacity

The only power link between France and the U.K. is the 2-gigawatt IFA 2000 interconnector. That cable has been in service since 1986 and isn’t sufficient to meet the highest demand for power trading between the countries.

In the short term, Franco-British interconnection capacity will double to 4 gigawatts -- the equivalent of more than two nuclear reactors -- as Channel Tunnel operator Getlink expects to commission its ElecLink project early next year.

National Grid and its French counterpart RTE plan to complete the IFA2 cable between Southampton and Caen in the fourth quarter of 2020. National Grid also expects to complete its North Sea link with Norway at the end of 2021.

RTE and its Irish counterpart are continuing studies for the 700-megawatt Celtic Interconnector, which could bypass the U.K. and link France directly to Ireland from 2026. A final investment decision would happen around 2021, according to Eirgrid’s website.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.