17 February 2019
Li Ka-shing is seeking to protect the interests of his Hong Kong electricity business.
Li Ka-shing is seeking to protect the interests of his Hong Kong electricity business.

Tycoon Li steps up campaign against electricity import proposal

Billionaire Li Ka-shing, often referred to as “Superman” for his financial prowess, will see his powers and influence getting tested as the government prepares to launch next month a public consultation on the fuel mix for Hong Kong’s power utilities for the coming years.

As the eventual decision on the fuel mix will have a significant bearing on the profitability of Li’s latest spin-off, HK Electric Investments, the tycoon has a lot at stake.

To ensure a favorable outcome, the Li conglomerate has turned on its propaganda machine to advocate increased use of natural gas in local power generation — Option 2 in the consultation vote –rather than importing 30 percent of the electricity from mainland power grid.

The group has made an all-out lobbying effort, mobilizing staff, shareholders and business partners, some of whom were surprised at the group’s eagerness to push the agenda.

EJ Insight has learnt, for instance, that an employee of a Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary was asked to submit 20 survey responses this month from friends and relatives.

A Cheung Kong group business partner also received a request for support in what is described as an issue of “central importance to Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness and social well-being”.

The letter reads: “I am enclosing a brief summary comparison of the proposed options together with the consultation form and would very much appreciate you mobilizing as many of your Hong Kong staff as you can to complete and send the form to government expressing your support of Option 2 before the close of consultation period of 18th June.”

“We believe Option No.2 is by far the best option from the point of view of reliability of electricity supply cost of electricity to HK rate payers, and management of air quality and emissions in HK.”

The business partner, a multinational entity, is said to be hesitating to mobilize its staff to participate in the survey because of an internal guideline on distributing messages from outside.

In another effort, HK Electric Investments has sent letter to its shareholders to invite them to actively participate in the survey.

A spokesperson for HK Electric said the company has recently sent letters to its staff and all shareholders and that it encourages them to express their opinions about the fuel mix matter, which is an important issue for Hong Kong.

A Hutchison Whampoa spokesperson said the company has previously invited its staff to join a briefing session organized by HK Electric and encouraged them to express their views about the issue. Employees have the freedom to decide whether they want to join the session. The spokesperson denied that the staff has been assigned to complete a certain number of response forms for the public consultation. 

The company’s efforts came after Canning Fok Kin-ning, the right-hand man of Li who has often lobbied for his group’s sprawling business interests, slammed the proposed power import publicly two weeks ago.

Fok is the chairman of Power Assets Holdings, the Li group company that spun off its Hong Kong electricity arm earlier this year.

“Our subsidiary Hongkong Electric has a reliability of 99.9998 percent, which means the chance of a blackout is just one minute per year. The reliability of mainland power supply is 99.96 percent, taking the probability of blackouts to 3.2 hours every year or 16 minutes a month,” Fok said.

“Even small delays like eight minutes [at subways] have caused so much chaos. Can you imagine the kind of chaos wreaked by 16?”

Taking his comments further from electricity to water, he also challenged the pricing power of imported mainland water. “Can you bargain over Dongjiang water?” he wondered.

Going by the strong remarks and intense lobbying, it is clear that the group has made up its mind on what it wants to achieve. 

The question that observers are now asking is how far would Li and his executives be willing to go to realize their dream option.

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A response form of public consultation is being circulated among the staff of HK Electric and related companies as part of a campaign to build opposition to a government proposal to import electricity from the mainland.

Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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