* RTE CEO says Europe’s power grid consolidation underway
* RTE, largest EU grid operator, keen to make acquisitions
* RTE’s utility shareholdership limits its M&A options
* RTE keen to change its legal status to play role in EU (Adds Brottes comments, industry background)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - French grid operator RTE would be keen to play a part in European Union power grid consolidation and in favour of changing its legal status in order to achieve that, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
The largest grid operator in Europe, RTE is majority owned by French state-controlled utility EDF, but it remains a purely national player in an industry where more and more grid operators have stakes in foreign grids.
“RTE is not meant to be merely an observer in the consolidation of the European power grid industry,” RTE Chief Executive Francois Brottes told reporters.
Most European power grids were split off from the utilities that owned them more than a decade ago in a process called unbundling that was supposed to give all power producers equal access to the networks.
But RTE remains one of a few so-called “Independent Transmission Operators” (ITOs) still owned by vertically integrated utilities.
There are just eight ITOs among Europe’s 43 grid operators and these ITOs are not allowed to buy stakes in unbundled independent power grid operators. But Brottes said he would be in favour of changing RTE’s ITO status to be able to take part in any EU-wide power grid consolidation.
“I personally think we should get out of it,” he said.
Brottes, who met energy sector reporters, said that he agreed that not much could happen in terms of major grid operator consolidation in Europe as long as a key player like RTE remains an ITO.
“We can only court other ITOs, we cannot try to seduce other companies,” he said.
Brottes said the European grid industry is consolidating right now and that therefore RTE needs to reconsider its business model.
In 2016, RTE had prepared a bid for Greek grid operator ADMIE, one of the few other European grid operators with the ITO status, but it was outbid by the State Grid Corporation of China of China Corporation (SGCC), which paid 320 million euros for a 24 percent stake. SGCC also bought stakes in grid operators in Portugal and Italy in recent years.
“The Chinese are already in Portugal and Italy, and in Germany they are negotiating now. ... The Chinese want to buy everything that is for sale,” Brottes said.
Brottes said its status as a regulated company charging state-set tariffs also made it harder to bid for foreign peers.
“We are not an investment fund, we cannot put a bag of dollars on the table, our regulator would challenge that,” he said. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Keith Weir)