Does it matter that the power Britain relies on to make the country glow and hum no longer belongs to Britain? After all, the lights still shine. The phones still charge. Does it matter that the old electricity suppliers of eastern and north-west England and the English Midlands, the coal-fired power stations of Kingsnorth, Ironbridge and Ratcliffe-on-Soar, the turbine shops at Hams Hall, the oil and gas stations on the Isle of Grain, Killingholme, Enfield and Cottam are the property of E.ON of Düsseldorf? Is it of significance only to sentimental Little Englanders that the former electricity boards of Tyneside and Yorkshire, the power stations at Didcot in Oxfordshire, Fawley in Hampshire, Tilbury in Essex, Littlebrook in Kent, Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, Little Barford in Bedfordshire and Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire belong to RWE of Essen (the last being the only one the German company built itself)? Is it a sign of some atavistic hostility to the Other – nationalism, chauvinism, even racism – to find it strange that the one-time public purveyors of electricity in North Wales, Merseyside and southern Scotland, along with another set of large power stations, are owned by Iberdrola of Bilbao? Are you an enemy of liberal principles if you question the fact that, when local electrical engineers dig up the roads in London, they’re working for East Asia’s richest man, the Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing? In north-east England, they work for Warren Buffett; in Birmingham, Cardiff and Plymouth, the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company; in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool, Iberdrola; in Manchester, a consortium of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a J.P. Morgan investment fund.
LRB 13 September 2012 | PDF Download