EDF’s abuse of power

Power company EDF hit the headlines by threatening to sue climate campaigners for £5 million. Ewa Jasiewicz, one of the protesters, explains why they targeted the company

April 15, 2013
4 min read


Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.

French-headquartered EDF is the world’s second-largest electric utility company, with operations spanning Europe, Africa, the USA and Asia. EDF’s main revenue stream comes from generating electricity through nuclear power, which accounts for 74.5 per cent of its production. Renewable energy makes up just 0.1 per cent of its portfolio. Founded in 1946, it was a state-owned company until floating on the stock market in 2003. It had an annual turnover of £65.2 billion in 2010 and 5.7 million customer accounts in the UK, where revenues rose 6.4 per cent to £8.4 billion in 2012. It is the country’s largest electricity generator and distribution network operator.

EDF Energy’s parent organisation, EDF Group, operates the largest civil nuclear fleet of power stations in the world, with existing and planned facilities in France, the UK, the US and China. EDF Energy owns and operates 15 nuclear plants at eight nuclear power stations in the UK.

Even by the low standards of the ‘big six’ (the six largest energy companies in the UK, which supply 99 per cent of homes), EDF compares badly. Energy regulator Ofgem reported that it was the most complained about of the big six last year. It received 8,072 complaints for each 100,000 customers in the last three months of 2012 – more than double the 4,001 logged for the next most complained-about firm, Npower. The total complaints numbered 440,317 – more than 1,200 per day.

EDF also performs poorly on carbon emissions – it has the second lowest portfolio of renewables of the big six, spending just £1.6 billion on renewable energy since 2006.

2011 was a bad year for EDF. A French court fined the company £1.3 million and sent two of its staff to jail for spying on Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigners. Two private security company employees hired by EDF were also jailed and Greenpeace was awarded £430,000 in damages.

In the same year, Freedom of Information requests by Green MP Caroline Lucas revealed that EDF, alongside other companies such as Npower and Centrica, had at least 50 employees working within the government on energy issues over a four-year period, including drafting energy policy. The Department for Energy and Climate Change declared 195 ministerial meetings with energy companies and their lobby groups compared to just 17 with green campaign groups. This gives them a huge amount of influence over day-to-day government decisions and access to confidential information.

Also in 2011 the company’s website was brought down three times by Anonymous. The attacks cost EDF an estimated £140,000. Then, in October 2012, its new flagship combined cycle gas turbine power station at West Burton, in Nottinghamshire, was targeted by ‘No Dash for Gas’ climate activists, who shut it down for a week. The new plant will emit approximately 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year when operating at full capacity – more than the annual emissions of Paraguay.

Sixteen activists occupied two 80-metre chimneys at West Burton for seven days to protest at plans to build up to 40 new gas-fired power stations and make gas the UK’s primary fuel for the next 30 years. This dangerous and dirty pursuit would crash the UK’s carbon emission reduction targets, breaching legally binding undertakings, and raise fuel poverty and reliance on imported fuel.

The No Dash for Gas activists pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass in February and await sentence on 6 June. In the meantime, EDF slapped an unprecedented civil suit for £5 million on the protesters. This was seen as an attempt to bankrupt protesters and stifle future dissent. EDF’s profits last year alone were £1.7 billion – their £5 million damages claim amounts to just one day’s profits.

The tactic, labelled ‘reputational suicide’ by PR sustainability guru Brendan May, proved a disaster for EDF. In an embarrassing climbdown, the company decided to drop the lawsuit after 64,000 people signed a petition against the action, Naomi Klein recorded a video declaring ‘I Am No Dash For Gas’ and high profile figures such as actors Mark Ruffalo and Lucy Lawless, Noam Chomsky and Margaret Atwood pledged support. Though EDF dropped the damages claim, it still insisted on an injunction preventing the 21 activists from entering EDF power stations in the future. A protest at the company’s AGM has been announced for 1 May.

No Dash for Gas: www.nodashforgas.org.uk. Illustration by Martin Rowson


Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


40