As the mainstream media have recently been full of stories about the energy crisis now facing much of the world generally, Europe rather a lot, and the UK especially, it seems like a good time to examine who actually owns much of the UK’s energy infrastructure (or at least the “renewable” bit of it that seems to have been causing particular problems for the National Grid this year).
On 13th July 2021 the Scottish Herald ran an articlei with the headline “Third of Scotland’s big wind farms linked to tax havens including Cayman Islands”. That potentially alarming headline didn’t immediately suggest to me that much of the UK’s renewable energy infrastructure must be foreign-owned, since the use of tax havens isn’t an activity limited to foreigners. I’m sure plenty of British individuals and businesses are capable of adopting such strategies in an attempt to ensure that the taxman doesn’t get his hands on their filthy lucre. Still, the claims in the article were sufficiently intriguing to suggest that the UK’s energy security may be in the hands of foreigners to a rather alarming extent:
An investigation by The Ferret has also revealed that 39 of the largest 50 wind farms are ultimately owned outwith Scotland in … Spain, France, Germany, Norway, China and elsewhere.
I decided to take a look by sector with a view to trying to find out what’s what. I chose to limit my research to “renewables”, given that this is increasingly the sector that all but the most minor of political parties seek to have us rely on.
Offshore Wind Farms
The biggest offshore wind farm in the UK is Hornsea, and it is
owned & operated by Orsted. As most readers are probably aware, Orsted is Danish. More specificallyii:
Ørsted has its origin in the Danish state-owned company Dansk Naturgas A/S. The company was founded in 1972 to manage gas and oil resources in the Danish sector of the North Sea. After some years, the company was renamed to Dansk Olie og Naturgas A/S (DONG), meaning Danish Oil and Natural Gas. At the beginning of the decade of the 2000s, DONG started to expand itself into the electricity market by taking long positions in electricity companies. In 2005, DONG acquired and merged Danish electrical power producers Elsam and Energi E2 and public utility (electricity distribution) companies NESA, Københavns Energi and Frederiksberg Forsyning. The result of the merger was the creation of DONG Energy…
In 2002, one of predecessors of DONG Energy named Elsam installed the 160 MW Horns Rev offshore wind farm, which was the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the world.
In 2005, DONG Energy acquired 10.34% in the Ormen Lange gas field (operated by Shell). The share of gas reserves allocated to DONG Energy are approximately 40 billion cubic metres (1.4 trillion cubic feet)…
At about the time of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, DONG Energy adopted a strategy, called “85/15 vision”, of changing from a company with 85% of activities fossil fuel based to a company 85% based on green energy activities.
Isn’t it strange that only UK and US fossil fuel company diversification seems to be so hated by the climate worriers?
Dogger Bank Windiii farm is a joint venture, with different partnership arrangements in place for the different phases:
Dogger Bank is being developed in three 1.2GW phases : Dogger Bank A, B and C.
Dogger Bank A and B are joint ventures between SSE Renewables (40%), Equinor (40%) and Eni (20%).
Dogger Bank C is a 50:50 joint venture between Equinor and SSE Renewables.
SSE Renewables is lead operator for the development and construction of Dogger Bank and Equinor will be lead operator for the duration of the operational phase.
SSE Renewables is part of a UK Stock Exchange quoted Company. Of course, one of the things about being a public company is that it may always be taken over by another company, whether UK-based or not. In recent weeks, there has been some speculation about the future of SSE, not least in the Herald, with suggestions that the business might be broken up, and separate Stock Exchange listings sought for its constituent parts. An update is awaited in November. In the meantime, SSE sold its energy supply arm to Ovo Energy in 2020 for £500 million (which looks like a shrewd move as things stand).
As for Equinoriv:
Equinor ASA (formerly Statoil and StatoilHydro) is a Norwegian state-owned multinational energy company headquartered in Stavanger. It is primarily a petroleum company, operating in 36 countries with additional investments in renewable energy...
The current company was formed by the 2007 merger of Statoil with the oil and gas division of Nork Hydro. As of 2017, the Government of Norway is the largest shareholder with 67% of the shares, while the rest is public stock. The ownership interest is managed by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy…
Equinor also operates two offshore wind farms off the East Coast of England, Dudgeonv and Sheringham Shoal.
And what of Eni? Who are they?
Eni S.p.A. is an Italian multinational oil and gascompany headquartered in Rome. Considered one of the seven “supermajor” oil companies in the world,it has operations in 66 countries with a market capitalization of US$36.08 billion, as of 31 December 2020.The Italian government owns a 30.33% golden share in the company…vi
Eni is also active in the UK as operator of the Liverpool Bay Area project, for which it was recently awarded a CO2 appraisal and storage licence by the Oil and Gas Authorityvii.
This is a CO2 storage project, which has to date received £33M from the UK taxpayer, via UK Research & Innovation’s IDC (Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge) Fund. The problem with digging in to these things is that one thing just leads to another….
Another increasingly large offshore wind farm is that at Walney, comprising Walney I, Walney II and the Walney Extension, based 12 miles off the south Cumbrian coast.
While the 659MW facility, Walney Extension is co-owned by Orsted and Danish pension funds PFA and PKAviii, Walney I and II are apparentlyix owned by Orsted (50.1%), SSE (25.1%) and OPW (24.8%). Orsted and SSE we have already met. OPW appearx to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New York Stock Exchange Listed, Illinois based, Dover Corporationxi.
The London Array wind farm comprises 175 turbines, and is based about 12 miles from the Kent and Essex coasts in the outer Thames Estuary. The 630MW wind farm was developed by the London Array Limited consortium, originally composed of British-Dutch company Shell, German company E.ON and Orsted. However, Shell pulled out of the project to be replaced by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned energy firm Masdar. Further changes in the ownership structure have subsequently occurred. According to its websitexii there are now four shareholders, with German company RWE holding 30%; Masdar holds 20%; and two companies hold 25% each – Orsted, and Canadian institutional investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ).
The Beatrice wind farm is a 588MW project located about eight miles off the coast of Caithness. It was developed by Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited, a consortium initially made up of SSE, Danish investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Red Rock Power. Today:
Beatrice is operated by SSE Renewables on behalf of a joint venture partnership between SSE Renewables (40%), Red Rock Power Limited (25%), The Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG) (17.5%) and Equitix (17.5%)xiii.
Red Rock Power Limited has its HQ in Edinburgh, but is in fact:
a European subsidiary of SDIC Power, a global power company based in Beijing. SDIC operates hydropower, wind farms, photovoltaic and coal fired power plants, with a total installed capacity of approximately 31.88GW – more than 60% of which is from renewable generation. It aims to have over 2GW of generation capacity outside of China by 2020.
SDIC Power Holdings Co., Ltd, is a listed company in Shanghai Stock Exchange (SH.600886), with State Development and Investment Corporation (SDIC), a State-Controlled Enterprise, holding 49.18% of its shares as of 2018xiv.
TRIG appears to be Guernsey-based, but
[I]s a London-listed investment company whose purpose is to generate sustainable returns from a diversified portfolio of renewables infrastructure that contribute towards a zero-carbon futurexv.
And the last piece of the Beatrice Wind Farm ownership jigsaw puzzle, Equitix?
Equitix is majority owned by TFG Asset Management L.P., a diversified alternative asset management business that owns majority and minority private equity stakes in asset management companies. Approximately 25% of the economic interests in the Equitix group is owned by Equitix’s management team. TFG Asset Management is part of Tetragon Financial Group Limited, a closed-ended investment company that is traded on Euronext in Amsterdam N.V. and on the Specialist Fund Segment of the main market of the London Stock Exchangexvi.
That represents a summary of the ownership of just five of the largest UK offshore wind farms, and it reveals rather a tangled web, to say the least. What of the biggest “farms” onshore? By the way, I can’t resist putting the word “farms” in inverted commas, since use of such a bucolic word seems so inappropriate in the context of what are, in reality, vast industrial complexes.
Onshore Wind Farms
Whitelee Wind Farm is one of the biggest onshore wind farms in the UK:
The main visitor centre is located in East Renfrewshire, but the majority of turbines are located in East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. It was developed and is operated by Scottish Power Renewables which is part of the Spanish company Iberdrolaxvii.
For the sake of completeness, it is worth pointing out that this Spanish company is also behind the offshore wind farms, West of Duddon Sands and East Anglia ONE. Then again, these things are complicated. East Anglia ONE is in fact a joint venture between Scottish Power Renewables and Macquarie’s Green Investment Groupxviii, so is owned by a combination of Spanish and Australian businesses.
Clyde Wind Farm is one of Europe’s biggest operational wind farms. Clyde Windfarm (Scotland) Ltd is a joint venture partnership between SSE, Greencoat UK Wind Plc and GLIL Corporate Holdings Ltd.
Remarkably, this means that it seems to be entirely British-owned, since:
Greencoat UK Wind Plc is a leading renewable infrastructure fund, invested in 34 operating UK wind farms with net generating capacity of 950MW (including its shareholding in Clyde). UKW is managed by an experienced team of senior executives from Greencoat Capital LLP, is listed on the LSE main market and included in the FTSE-250 index, and is overseen by a strong and experienced independent board.
GLIL Infrastructure LLP (GLIL) is a £1,825m infrastructure fund focused on core infrastructure opportunities in the UK. GLIL is backed by four Local Authority Pension Funds, namely: Greater Manchester Pension Fund, Merseyside Pension Fund, West Yorkshire Pension Fund and Local Pensions Partnership Investments (the entity which manages London Pensions Fund Authority, Lancashire County Pension Fund and Royal Country of Berkshire Pension Fund). GLIL is an unauthorised Alternative Investment Fund, whose Alternative Investment Fund Manager is Local Pensions Partnership Investments. Since being founded in 2015, GLIL has invested and committed approximately £1bn in UK infrastructure projects.
Continuing with the Statista definitions, the third largest onshore wind farm in the UK is Kilgallioch Wind Farm, straddling South Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway. It is owned and operated by Scottish Power Renewables, which alert readers will recall is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spanish company, Iberdrola. It is one of 40 or so wind farms which they own and operate in the UK.
In joint fourth place is Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm. Its websitexxi says that its south Wales location makes it the highest altitude wind farm in the UK. It is owned and operated by Vattenfall, a Swedish company owned by the Swedish government. For some reason its UK websitexxii is a little coy about that fact, describing it merely as a “European energy company”.
Stronelairg Wind Farm shares the joint fourth place position, and situated at around 2,000′ in the Monadhliath hills, I should have thought it might have the claim to be the highest altitude wind farm in the UK. It is another SSE/Greencoat joint venture, with SSE holding 50.1% and Greencoat holding 49.9% of the ownershipxxiii.
Shotwick Solar Park in Flintshire, North Wales, spread over 250 acres, is the UK’s largest solar farmxxiv. It is operated by British Solar Renewables. Oh good, a British company. Well, not exactly:
BSR is the largest privately-owned, integrated solar developer in the UK, and is majority owned by Siem Europe Sarl.
So who is Siem Europe Sarl? So far as I can tell, it’s a subsidiary of Siem Industries Inc., a Luxemburg based company, which has several interests, including in the oil and gas services industry.
Once the UK’s largest solar park, but subsequently pushed into second place, is Lyneham Solar Farm in Wiltshire. It too is operated by British Solar Renewablesxxv, so again is in the hands of an organisation based in Luxemburg.
Looking into the future, the businesses behind Cleve Hill Solar Park in north Kent, where construction is due to start early next year, claim that it will be the UK’s largest solar farmxxvi. It comprises a joint venture between Hive Energy Limited and Wirsol Energy Limited. Hive Energy appears to be UK-based and owned, albeit with interests all over the world. Wirsol Energy, on the other hand, is a subsidiary of Wircon GmbH, which describes itselfxxvii as a global energy company, though it is based in Mannheim, Germany.
Owl’s Hatch Solar Farm, also in Kent, sprawls over 212 acres of our once green and pleasant land. According to the Business Green websitexxviii British Solar Renewables sold it to Cubico Sustainable Investments some five years ago. Cubico’s websitexxix tells us that it is “jointly owned by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and PSP Investments.”The former is exactly what you would expect it to be. The latter is “one of Canada’s largest pension investment managers”, according to its websitexxx. In other words, this site is entirely Canadian-owned.
West Raynham Solar Farm covers a sprawling 225 acres of disused airfield land, and is another that was the biggest in the UK when it was commissioned, in 2015. It is owned by Bluefield Solar, which acquired it for £56.5Mxxxi on a leasehold basisxxxii from the freeholders, Raynham Estate. Bluefield Solar Income Fund is listed on the London Stock Exchangexxxiii, though of course its investors could come from anywhere.
Postscript – Interconnectors
These do seem to be under the control of the UK National Grid, or at least under the joint control of the UK National Grid and the authority in whichever country the interconnector links withxxxiv. As the National Grid tells us:
As at 2020, National Grid operates three interconnectors, connecting the UK with France, Netherlands and Belgium. Three more are under construction – a second with France, plus one each with Norway and Denmark.
Whilst they may, in principle at least, provide some useful flexibility, both in terms of importing electricity when it is running low in the UK (possibly an increasing risk, as recent events suggest in this year of little wind) or in exporting it if the ever-increasing numbers of wind turbines and solar farms are actually generating power, there are issues here.
First, there is the general unreliability of interconnectorsxxxv. Second, there is the risk associated with being so dependent on foreign countries for essential electricity. Everything will, no doubt, be fine, so long as goodwill prevails, and it is in the interests of the countries concerned to export their surplus energy to the UK. But what if they no longer perceive that to be in their interests? What if there isno surplus? The energy crisis facing the UK in September 2021 was not confined to the UK. When a large anticyclone settles over western Europe for a prolonged period it gives the lie to the claim that “the wind is always blowing somewhere”. Maybe it is, but if it’s not blowing here, there’s also a good chance that it’s not blowing in the countries who we might rely upon to send us their (hypothetical) surplus.
I check the sources of electricity supply to the National Grid from time to time by referring to a very user-friendly website for this purposexxxvi and although I don’t doubt that it might occur occasionally, I have never noticed the UK being a net exporter of electricity via the interconnectors. I have on several occasions this year noticed anywhere between 10% and 20% of the UK’s electricity needs being imported via them. Even as I write this, on a late September evening, when the wind has finally returned and is providing 20.7% of our electricity needs once again, we are still importing 5.9% via the interconnectors.
Security of energy supply is fundamental to all nations. The UK doesn’t seem to be making a very good job of it. In fact, so fragile is the system that it could – and perhaps should – be one of the key issues that undermines the current Government. The main problem with that argument is that the only plan the opposition parties seem to have is more of the same – to build ever more unreliable and unpredictable “renewable” energy sources, many of which will no doubt be foreign-owned, rendering the system ever more reliant on power supplied by the interconnectors, power which might well not be available when we need it. I fear this might cost us all a lot of money and end in blackouts.
v See Jit’s article, “In High Dudgeon”:
xxxv “Winter blackout fears after substation fire cuts off French power
Interconnector that largely draws on power from French nuclear stations supplies more energy into the grid than all the UK’s windfarms”: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/09/15/fire-knocks-key-electricity-cable-france/
See also “20,000 Volts Under the Sea”: