Socialist Worker

Energy giant leaves millions in the dark

Issue No. 1867

THE BLACKOUT that hit London and the south east of England last week was another vivid reminder of the madness of privatisation and spending curbs.

Thousands of passengers were stuck underground when 60 percent of the tube network ground to a halt without power.

The tube used to have its own generating station at Lots Road in Chelsea. It was shut last year and it is now to be turned into luxury flats.

Instead, the government pushed London Underground to sign a deal with a private electricity provider in the run up to the PPP privatisation of the tube.

And privatisation lies at the centre of why the blackout took place. The Tories privatised the National Grid under Margaret Thatcher after starving it of investment.

Extra investment the company boasts of now does not make up for the cuts the Tories inflicted before the sell off.

The National Grid is now a giant global energy company. It took over the Transco gas company and with it the British gas grid.

It has the biggest stake in the electricity distribution network on the east coast of the US, which collapsed last month, plunging New York into darkness.

The National Grid promised $90 million of cuts when it took over.

Two weeks ago Socialist Worker reported that such a US-style blackout 'could happen here'.

Energy experts warn further cuts are likely this winter.

Since privatisation half the highly skilled workers at the National Grid have either been sacked or have left.

Power generation is now a market free for all. That means wild swings in generating capacity.

Until recently Britain typically had 25 percent more capacity than needed on average. That meant there was room to cope with sudden increases in demand.

Now the safety margin has fallen to 16 percent. On 10 December last year Britain came close to a massive blackout.

There was an unexpected cold snap, pushing up demand for electricity, and two power stations broke down.

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Article information

Sat 6 Sep 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1867
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