National Grid gas sale bodes well for renewables

It remains unclear why British Prime Minister Theresa May put the brakes on the construction of Hinkley Point C, as soon as she entered office in July, only to approve it two months later.  Some believe that it was a cosmetic gesture designed to distance her government from predecessor David Cameron’s.  Others interpreted the move as an implicit preference for alternative, renewable, forms of energy supply and the strongest of all rumours, based on opinions she voiced as Home Secretary, suggested a reluctance to let China take an important stake in a strategic national asset.

National Grid - Gas Sale

Whatever the reason, offence was certainly taken by the Chinese for whom trust is an essential element of any business transaction.[1]  They will have been aware that neighbouring Japan, their historical foe, was permitted to purchase ARM Holdings plc, another British national treasure, just days before.

It could be, however, that Mrs May repented of her former protectionism, has been better briefed or is simply in need of friends as she faces a future on the edge of Europe.  With impressive diplomacy, she calmed the rippled waters at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou and swiftly thereafter announced her U-turn.

This is encouraging for National Grid, another strategic national asset that has put its gas distribution business up for sale.  It is also good news for the string of Chinese suitors that have shown an interest in purchasing it.  Li Ka-shing, the richest person in Hong Kong according to Forbes [2], the sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation, Fosun and China Resources are all rumoured to have submitted first round bids either alone or in consortia.

The price tag is estimated at £11bn including debt and, though the auction has raised hackles at the GMB union, presumably because responsibility for future pension payments to the 8,900 gas employees will pass to the new owner, there is every indication that the sale will go ahead.

National Grid has been studiously tight-lipped about the divestment, shedding little light on its objectives beyond realising “some of the value we have created for our shareholders”.[3]

However, one theory, advanced by the Financial Times, is that National Grid does not see gas as a critical part of Britain’s power generation future.  The UK’s long term energy policy is reported as favouring, instead, a move towards renewable energy. [4]


[1] BBC.  China warns of ‘crucial juncture’ over Hinkley delay.  9 August 2016.

[2] Forbes.  The World’s Billionaires.

[3] National Grid.  Our Company.

[3] Financial Times.  Perverse logic behind National Grid revamp.  26 September 2016.