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Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 10 News List

EDF makes play for 35.2% holding in British Energy

AFP , LONDON

French state-owned energy giant EDF, the world’s biggest nuclear energy producer, has ambitions to expand into a lucrative future market with a bid for the leading British nuclear energy producer.

Friday was the deadline for bids for the British government’s 35.2 percent stake in British Energy, the biggest British power generator, a privatized company providing nearly 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, and owning eight of the nation’s 10 nuclear power stations.

By the weekend EDF was reported to be the only bidder so far.

German power giants RWE and E.ON plus Spain’s Iberdola had been reported among other likely bidders for British Energy.

No EDF bid figure was cited with the bid announcement. But London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said on Friday that EDF and its advisers, Merril Lynch, were putting together a pitch worth between £9.2 billion (US$18 billion) and £10.2 billion.

Interest from abroad comes at a time when Britain plans a new generation of nuclear reactors and would open up a particularly lucrative market.

The purchase of British Energy would enable EDF, already Europe’s leading electricity producer, to further strengthen its European market domination.

EDF is reported to be quietly purchasing land in Britain near nuclear sites in what looks like plans for investment in Britain whether it gets British Energy or not.

EDF, which already has a stake in British energy through a subsidiary, has bought land near two existing nuclear sites in England and Wales, the Financial Times said on Friday.

It assessed that the “stealthy purchases” could allow it to build up to three new atomic power stations, regardless of whether it is successful in its bid for British Energy.

The Financial Times described EDF’s acquisition of the land as “a move of strategic audacity” which “positioned itself to take a leading role in Britain’s nuclear future irrespective of what happens to British Energy.”

The British government approved a new generation of nuclear power stations in January, signaling that they were likely to be built on or near existing sites primarily by private firms.

EDF currently faces a fairly bleak growth rate on its regulated domestic market and makes no secret of its desire to expand elsewhere in Europe.

Control over eight of Britain’s 10 nuclear power stations would enable the French company to have a powerful role in the planned development of a new generation of nuclear reactors in Britain.

EDF’s ambitions often come in for criticism from competitors who complain that it is protected against takeover bids because of the French state’s majority stake and by its near monopoly position because of regulated French electricity prices. Market analysts say British plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors open the way for the only truly deregulated energy market in Europe.

Patrice Lambert de Diesbach and Atallah Estephan, market analysts with Credit Mutuel-CIC, however do not believe the British government will allow just one new owner to control British Energy.

They said this would be nonsense when the aim was to use the expertise of foreign nuclear companies to import greater competition benefiting British consumers.

Emmanuel Retif, analyst with Raymond James, says EDF “reduces its chances of success by making an offer alone and could even lose everything if in addition doors are closed in Spain,” since the Spanish power company Iberdola was trying to form a consortium.

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