US utility obtains share of National Grid lkjad

Southern Electric International of the US is to become the first foreign shareholder in the National Grid Company through its takeover of South Western Electricity, due for completion on Friday.

It is understood that virtually none of Sweb's existing shareholders have taken the option of retaining a stake in the grid in lieu of part of SEI's cash offer, which will leave SEI with about a 6 per cent stake.

SEI made it clear it wants to retain as much as possible of the grid, which is owned by the 12 regional electricity companies and is due for flotation. This is in spite of Government concerns that no regional firm should have influence over the grid after it is floated.

The retention of the stake also raises the issue of whether customers in Sweb's area will get a rebate on flotation. The Government is adamant that consumers will receive a cut of the proceeds - possibly up to pounds 35 per household, as a result of the deal. It would be politically unacceptable if customers in those areas where the local company does not dispose of its grid stake were deprived of a pay-out.

Hanson, the industrial conglomerate in the throes of an agreed pounds 2.5bn takeover of Eastern Electricity, is also thought to want to keep the grid stake. Hanson refuses to comment, but has admitted that pounds 500m of the offer price is for Eastern's 12.5 per cent holding in NGC.

The takeovers are further complicating in the drawn-out saga of the national grid. Bryan Townsend, chairman of Midlands Electricity, representing the industry, met on Monday with Tim Eggar, minister for energy and industry.. The 12 have found it difficult to agree between themselves as well as with the Government.