China General Nuclear Power Corp. Moves into Wind Power in UK, Possibly Seeking to Soften Image

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) began work on the Brenig onshore wind farm in Wales on August 4.  CGN, the minority partner in the Hinkley Point C and lead bidder for the future Bradwell nuclear power plant projects, has endured a difficult time in Britain since the so-called “golden era” in UK-China relations was curtailed following enhanced scrutiny of Chinese investment under the new government elected in July 2016.  This new project may, in part, be motivated by a need to improve CGN’s image and reputation within the country on a low-risk project that also allows the company to diversify further into the renewables sector.  CGN has also invested in renewables in France, Belgium, Ireland.

Setbacks previously experienced by CGN included the signing ceremony for the Hinkley Point C project being cancelled with only hours notice and the modification of the initial agreement, which now requires the company to wait until 2020 for a decision on whether its bid for a two-thirds stake in the planned Bradwell project can go ahead.

It is possible the Brenig project is viewed as part of an overall strategy to improve its chances of approval for Bradwell as well as the odds of success for its longer-term ambitions of becoming a major player in the European energy sector.  The involvement of a nuclear power specialist in renewable energy is somewhat at odds with new restrictions from Chinese regulators on non-core business investments, so the implicit government approval for CGN’s wind power project signals wider government support for the company’s strategy in Britain, and Europe more broadly.  Indeed, it could speak to the importance attributed by Beijing to Bradwell as a signature project for China’s nuclear companies seeking credibility in developed countries.

CGN, working in partnership with British firm Jones Bros Civil Engineering, aims to complete the 16 wind turbine project by 2018.  Once complete, the wind farm will supply power for 25,000 homes. At Hinkley Point C, CGN holds a 33.5% stake with French energy company EDF the lead contractor.