Boris Johnson threatened with legal action over delays to energy project

Eurotunnel rival to Aquind energy project is left in limbo

Sean O’Neill, Chief Reporter 
Boris Johnson has been threatened with legal action over delays to an energy project amid concern that his ministers are focusing on a rival scheme backed by Tory donors.Eurotunnel’s £600 million plan to lay a cable linking the British and French power grids through the Channel Tunnel has been delayed at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue. The Times has seen a legal letter to the body overseeing the tunnel, copied to the prime minister, which warns: “Any further delay in deciding whether to proceed with the project would further increase this loss, forcing Eurotunnel to seek compensation by using all legal means at its disposal.”

Ministers backed the tunnel scheme in 2017 and the company has built converter stations, manufactured the 1gw cable and received the go-ahead from French regulators. “They’re ready to go and no one knows what the hold-up is,” a Whitehall source said.

There is concern in the energy sector that the government is favouring an undersea interconnector proposed by Aquind, a large donor with close ties to the Conservative Party.

Aquind’s owner, whose identity had been hidden by Companies House, is Viktor Fedotov, a former executive in the Russian oil industry. One of Aquind’s directors is the Tory activist and donor Alexander Temerko, 53, who ran a Russian state arms business and was an oil executive before he fled Russia in 2004. Since 2011 Mr Temerko or companies he is associated with have given £1.3 million to the Conservatives, including sums to five cabinet ministers or their constituency parties.

Eurotunnel, which makes no political donations, needs final safety approval from UK officials on the Channel Tunnel intergovernmental commission. Britain missed a July 24 deadline for a decision, blaming Covid. In its legal letter Eurotunnel calls that “a delaying tactic”. Eurotunnel would not comment on a leaked letter but a spokesman said: “The question should be why British experts are still delaying their approval when the French safety authority has given its green light. Could it be related to Aquind or other interconnector projects, or is it just shocking inefficiency?”

Aquind is a British-registered firm and political donations are properly made and declared. The planning decision on the Aquind scheme — a 2gw cable it claims would provide up to 5 per cent of UK power — will be made by the energy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng.

A transport department spokesman said that assessment of the Eurotunnel project was continuing and: “We will not compromise on rail safety.”

Behind the story
Ofgem and the government have encouraged the construction of “interconnectors” such as Aquind’s between Britain and the continent to improve the security of the power supply and support the shift to greener energy (Emily Gosden writes).

When output from British wind and solar farms is low, French nuclear power can be imported; when it is high, France can use British electricity.

Most interconnectors are laid along the seabed but there is a plan for one, called Eleclink, to go through the Channel Tunnel. Interconnector operators sell the right to use the cable to international electricity traders.

National Grid is building further links with France, Norway and Denmark, scheduled for completion this year, next year and in 2023 respectively.

[There is also the FAB interconnector, closer to home, scheduled to make landfall in the lime Kiln car park Budleigh Saterton, then wend its way to a converter station near the airport. This appears stalled at the moment.]