Project delays: When the line between parody and reality blurs, it’s time to make a decision

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Energy can be a dry topic. Sometimes, if I tell new people I’m an energy journalist a now-familiar look flashes across their face, and it is clear they have just thought, but not said: “Is that a real job then?

As a subject, energy encompasses finance, economics and physics among many other things – rarely topics that lend themselves to high comedy. But not even the energy sector was able to escape this year’s traditional flurry of satirical April Fools news stories.

And reading some of these got me thinking: If an energy journalist of seven years experience – me – can find it difficult to tell the difference between a parody of an ongoing news story, and the actual story itself, what does that say about the subject?

I have two examples:

  • Consultancy Cornwall Energy ran a brief piece, since removed from its news feed unfortunately, on the launch of the Hinkley Point newspaper – a new publication specifically covering the UK’s first nuclear power plant project in a generation. The paper’s unique selling point? It was based on unsubstantiated gossip, spurious claims and general hearsay.
  • Futures and Options World ran a full-length story satirising the complex world of financial regulation. It broke the news of how the markets in financial instruments directive (Mifid) III was going to be introduced before its older brother, the perennially-delayed Mifid II.

In both cases I began reading on the general assumption that these were April Fools parodies, because it was 1 April, but could not be 100% sure until I reached the spokesperson’s comedy name. It was something atomic-related in the case of Hinkley, and a European parliament spokesman named Totali Buffooni in the Mifid piece.

Now, ICIS Energy has been covering the Hinkley Point C nuclear project since the start of this decade when lead developer EDF said it was “able to take immediate action to move the project forward significantly”. Granted, Cornwall Energy’s parody was one of the national media coverage, as opposed to the project itself, but the Hinkley Point timetable certainly does have elements of farce. The plant was initially due online in 2017. Today 2025 is EDF’s best estimate, although a final investment decision is still on hold.

Mifid II, although not to the same extent, has also been pushed back time and again, leaving compliance departments at energy firms across Europe in a state of semi-limbo. Most recently the European Commission sent rules – which are to be implemented in less than two years – back to be re-written. This is not mere tinkering. Two of the three called-for adjustments will have a huge impact on commodity trading and the energy industry. See the ICIS regulation portal for more on this.

Energy is a complex business, yes, and complex things that intersect finance, economics and physics take time to get right. But if your project has been ongoing for so long that parodies of it start to bear an uncanny resemblance to the real thing, then it is surely time to make a decision, and stick to it.

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