A political and economic history of the nationalization and deregulation of the United Kingdom’s electricity systems.
American investment banker Hyman (The Water Business, 1998, etc.) builds on his body of writing about energy deregulation to offer a detailed look at Britain’s electricity industry from the invention of the generator to the present day. The book shows his deep research, but it’s also shaped by his personal connection as one of the bankers responsible for marketing shares in newly privatized U.K. utilities in the 1980s. The book follows the country’s electric companies from their municipal origins through nationalization, highlighting the many difficulties that the U.K. faced in standardizing supply and distribution across the country, the windfall profits of the privatization era, and the challenges of modernizing a system that has long relied on coal. There are also frequent comparisons to regulation and infrastructure in the United States, which will offer simple points of reference for American readers. Hyman is generally a proponent of free-market solutions, but he offers plenty of criticisms of how privatization was implemented and suggestions for equitable treatment of both customers and shareholders. Many tables and charts illustrate his points, and an appendix provides concise, coherent explanations of financial and scientific concepts for nonexperts. The book’s structure makes it feasible to track Hyman’s arguments across hundreds of pages; he highlights each chapter’s conclusions and provides a list of points to consider at the end of the narrative. Although the subject matter can be dense at times, Hyman has clearly mastered his subject, and he has an eye for intriguing details (noting, for example, that by 1949, only 150 of 155,000 utility employees weren’t part of a union), and he sprinkles his prose with pithy insights and memorable turns of phrase (“The UK could, also, openly re-regulate, simplify life for all and reduce electric company cost of capital but the odds of that happening are lower than a Papal nullification of priestly celibacy”).
An occasionally complicated but always informative look at the transformation of an industry over centuries.