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Competition Lost

U.S. companies' international strategies turn sour, as Europe faces a future with an oligopoly of power companies.
Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 2003

in terms of electricity sales, according to the company's own estimation. The energy division owns interests in and operates power stations totaling 50,000 MW, of which the division has an attributable share of 34,000 MW. E.ON Energie participates in energy markets in more than a dozen European countries. Notably, E.ON Energie has a 55 percent stake in Sydkraft, the second-largest utility in Sweden.

Essen, Germany-based RWE: Like E.ON, RWE is a multi-business corporation, but RWE Energie is, according to non-company sources, Germany's largest vertically integrated electricity company. In addition to merging with its neighbor, VEW, its acquisitions include Innogy in the United Kingdom.

Endesa: The principal electricity company in Spain has a strong presence in France and Portugal, but its expansion focus has been more in South America. It boasts control of 43,000 MW and in 2001 produced more than 133,000 GWh for 20.5 million customers. The vertically integrated company generates, transports, and markets power.

Iberdrola: Spain's second-largest vertically integrated power company is said to be in a less-flexible competitive position owing to its increase in debt, which limits its ability to make more acquisitions in Europe, but its home court advantage on the Iberian peninsula cannot be easily disputed.

Electrabel: Belgium-based Electrabel is rapidly expanding by acquiring assets across Europe, including the purchase of Tractebel's European assets. The company has slightly more market capitalization than the Spanish players do. However, it is facing a challenge at home, where the government is pushing for the retirement of Electrabel's nuclear plants.

French multi-utility corporation SUEZ: Until its sale of subsidiary Tractebel-seen as a retreat from the power sector-the company's far-flung holdings included more than 26,000 MW in Europe. Tractebel held a 44 percent share in Electrabel. SUEZ is still a dominant and nimble player, and could be a formidable competitor, especially with its interest in renewable energy. Until recently the company deemed itself one of the top 10 independent electricity producers in the world.

Vattenfall: The largest Scandinavian power company has taken a leading role in Northern Europe. It has moved into Germany with the assumption of nearly all of Bewag, including acquisition of U.S. merchant generator Mirant's stake. It has assumed ownership of three other German utilities.


One company takes the money and runs, while the other decides to stick it out.

"The only company that made money was Dominion Resources. They bought East Midlands and sold it quickly to Powergen. They found someone else willing to pay the ridiculous price," says Anthony White, managing director of European Utilities and European Equity Research at Salomon Smith Barney.

Dominion Energy spokesman Mark Lazenby recalls that Dominion divested its U.K. portfolio in 1998, the year following the company's purchase. The intent of the purchase was in part to merge with another distribution company and squeeze efficiencies by eliminating duplicative back office operations. However, a merger partner could not be found. Further, the Labor government wanted to levy an unexpectedly high windfall profits tax. "We anticipated a windfall profits tax in our offer, but we viewed the Labor government as tax thirsty," Lazenby says.