Industry: water, steel & energy

Woolf, Fiona (1 of 1). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
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  • Interviewees

    Woolf, Fiona (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Story about FW came to be involved in electricity privatisation: background in project finance and banking, previous work on Channel Tunnel; advised Northern Ireland Electricity Service [NIES] on defending against introduction of independent generators, FW observing how NIE's electricity system functioned first hand, learning how a power system operated; FW meeting Central Electricity Generating Board [CEGB] general counsel Charles Karr whilst attending conference in Sydney when ESI privatisation white paper was published; FW writing paper with help of colleague on governance of power systems in a market, to meet concerns of National Grid chairman David Jefferies over effectively running the transmissions system in a market; David Jefferies appointing FW as National Grid's legal adviser; [05:20] anecdote about future husband considering National Grid a small company, FW seeing its essential role in system; FW and team writing 700 codes and agreements for National Grid; anecdote about being photographed for Financial Times with piles of documents; FW building up able team of 38 lawyers; [07:15] FW feelings at start of process, realising limitations of her understanding of ESI in England and Wales, uncertainty over what electricity market would be like; gradual introduction to weekly meetings of Pomeroy Committee on market design, FW learning from others at meetings, particularly NERA's Sally Hunt; importance of creating level playing field. [10:00] Remarks on: National Grid seen as relatively small at time, importance of transmission companies around world under appreciated; National Grid emphasis on keeping lights on, laws of physics overriding market economics; FW sometimes concerned that market system would be too conservative; novelty of approach at the time, American power pools and Chilean approach only offering limited market; outline of early ideas for a two pool and 'boxes on the bridge', with generator and distribution pools; challenge for lawyers in understanding technicalities of issues. [14:10 pause] Remarks on challenges and complications: writing technical rules to manage multiple organisations to keep the lights on; engineering and physics driven rules; questions around which levels to write rules at; needing to understand technical details of the system and its constraints; market rules needing to be combined with the laws of physics; writing of documents by those with greatest interests in area, pooling and settlement agreements eventually written by Adrian Montague; [17:55] mentions need to understand regulatory regimes, law, regulations and licenses; licenses becoming a major piece of work; anecdote comparing restructuring electricity industry with eating pizza, example of division of power station substations; agreements for generators to supply services other than power, such as reactive power. [20:55] Remarks on Grid Code: FW learning from head of systems operations Arthur Fowkes; anecdote about naming of Grid Code as a temporary measure after FW meeting with head of planning John Banks, need to combine planning and operations codes; anecdote about naming of Ancillary Services Agreement after meeting with Alan Kidd at CEGB headquarters. [24:00] Remarks on conversion of engineering requirements into enforceable legal agreements: anecdote about engineer's surprise at idea of contracts for managing grid; developing long lasting approach to writing technical rules, still used by FW in work on Mexican ESI; development of consistent definition glossary; difficult process of lawyers and engineers collaborating; easier to turn engineers into lawyers than vice versa; FW personal challenge of ensuring consistency of all documentation; eventual result of 700 codes and agreements; FW work putting her in position of understanding whole process. [28:45] [cont’ from 28:45] Remarks on personal experience of ESI privatisation: anecdote about delaying wedding in 1990 until after vesting day; anecdote about FW almost having to reschedule a dress fitting due to complications with Anglesey Aluminium contracts; anecdote about FW secretary matchmaking her with future husband whilst she was busy; FW discussions at wedding about taking on less work afterwards due to child care duties, whilst husband Nicholas was setting her up meetings in USA; FW subsequent discussions with World Bank, who were developing programme for electricity privatisation; Nicholas important role in exporting UK approach to ESI privatisation. [33:25] Remarks on key problems: concerns over software development, idiosyncrasies of existing GOAL [Generation Ordering And Loading] software; mentions Peter Quest work as pool auditor; withdrawal of nuclear power from privatisation; some tasks remaining unaddressed, such as transmission losses; late attention to rules for England-France inter-connector, FW talks afterwards helping people to understand rules; [37:30]David Jefferies and directors changing culture of National Grid to become more commercially orientated; profitability and market complication of National Grid's ownership of pumped storage power stations at Dinorwig and Ffestiniog, mentions Geoff Scott's skill with contracts for differences; National Grid defying early expectations that it would be slow and inefficient to become excellent organisation; [40:00] lawyers' proactive role seeing off challenges from generators and RECs to ensure fairness; lawyers contributing to weekly meetings of ESI managers to overcome logjam issues, anecdote about National Grid producing far more solutions to problems than other electricity companies, David Jefferies keenness to take initiative in providing solutions; anecdote about using technical jargon to win debates and ensure a fair market; John Wakeham influence tightening project management measures and a tight deadline for completion; project manager Nick Coleman's role coordinating progress; John Wakeham role taking decisions. [43:20] Remarks on FW subsequent work: FW direct work coming to end in 1990, colleagues ongoing work with National Grid, eventual de-merger and floatation of National Grid; FW work on National Grid work in Portugal, Argentina; FW adopting innovative Argentine approach in subsequent work in California; political situations around energy differing between countries, but work on privatising ESI in UK a good basis for work abroad; FW experience helping her to become an expert in reforming market designs; [47:25] ESI privatisation seeming a huge collaborative effort requiring much mutual understanding; mentions Oliver Letwin role in resolving inter-connector issues; reflections on interview process.

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