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Industry News

EC Expected to Okay EdF Deal for Hidrocantabrico

LCG, Sept. 18, 2001--The European Commission is expected tomorrow to approve Electricit de France's indirect acquisition of Spanish utility Hidroelectrica del Cantabrico after the state-owned French monopoly dropped its decades-old resistance to building more transmission lines between France and Spain, the Financial Times reported this morning.

Ratification of the deal would be a victory for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who has criticized France for dragging its feet on liberalization of its electricity market. Spanish officials hailed the agreement as a milestone towards the creation of a single European energy market, the paper said.

Heretofore, Spain has been cut off from the rest of Europe because there is only one transmission line across the Pyrenees, the rugged mountain range separating the Iberian Peninsula from France. That interconnection is capable of carrying only 1,100 megawatts of power.

The effect of that limitation has been to prevent the importation of power in times of need and also to shield Spanish utilities from the possibility of competition from cheaper foreign power. The result has been higher than necessary Spanish electricity rates, officials say.

EdF has agreed to expand the interconnection capacity between France and Spain by up to 4,000MW over a period of five to 10 years, and in exchange, the Spanish government has withdrawn its objections to EdF's acquisition of a controlling stake in Hidrocantabrico through its partially-owned affiliate Energie Baden-Wurrtemberg of Germany.

"The agreement opens the Spanish electricity market to foreign suppliers," Luis de Guindos, the Spanish economy ministry's secretary for competition policy, said yesterday. "This is positive from a competition point of view and also from the point of view of securing alternative suppliers."

Hidrocantabrico is the smallest of Spain's four electric utilities and produces about 8 percent of the country's power. In recent years, it has been the target of takeover bids by several Spanish, European and U.S. companies, but each such overture has foundered on objections by Spain's competition authorities.

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