Byline: ROBERT LEA
THEY come over here putting their name on our FA Cup and our Test matches ... and now they want to build and run our nuclear power stations.
Last week, a consortium of German energy giants E.On and RWE paid [pounds sterling]305 million to buy some land in the West Country and Wales.
That land was plots auctioned off by British civil servants next to the nearredundant nuclear power stations of Oldbury on the River Severn and Wylfa on Anglesey.
What E.On and RWE hope they have bought is -- pending planning, community and technical consents -- the right to build reactors on the two sites capable of producing six gigawatts of nuclear electricity. That is enough power for three million homes.
The German companies may have bought familiarity on the average British sofa by E.On's sponsorship the FA Cup and RWE's backing of Test cricket through its npower household supply arm, but their apparent love affair with the UK has much more to do with the realpolitik of the European energy industry.
Both companies have been in the UK for the last seven years, having bought both halves of the privatised Central Electricity Generating Board power station operator. E.On took over and then rebranded Powergen, and RWE acquired the old National Power, which had morphed into Innogy, trading as npower.
The companies' provenance goes back much further. The product of mergers between formerly state or municipally owned utilities, they have become the number one and number two German power companies. More pertinently, they are behind much of the 30% of German electricity generated by nuclear power stations.
But E.On and RWE are not in the UK on some cross-North Sea outreach initiative: it is because of conditions on the Continent -- or more specifically that while the deregulated British market is open to competition and mergers and acquisitions, the rest of Europe is not.
That has seen E.On and RWE npower build up large shares of the UK residential and industrial supply market. The two control some of the largest power installations in the land, and are in the vanguard of next-generation projects such as the controversial "clean coal" station at Kingsnorth in Kent and, with huge subsidies, the would-be construction of the world's largest wind farm in the Thames estuary.
And the reawakening of nuclear in Britain comes at no more opportune time. Their own country -- Europe's largest economy but in hock to the power politics of the Greens -- has banned the building of new nuclear plants.
In France, E.On and RWE are banned from operating nuclear plants because they are, er, not French. In Britain, Europe's only open market, nuclear is the new growth market and the Germans want a substantial piece of it. …