Another blow to renewable energy

The UK Government may be about to add a further blow to renewables by threatening to scrap Feed in Tariffs.

The government aims to rein its spending following the revelation it overspent on the £7.6 billion levy control framework (LCF) by £1.5 billion. Decc has suggested it would close the FiT to new applicants by January 2016 if cost control measures are not implemented or prove to be ineffective. These cost control measures include introducing new tariffs based on “fresh evidence” about the costs and rates of returns on solar, wind and hydropower technologies.

This could see support for solar scaled back by up to 86 per cent, and some subsidies for onshore wind removed completely. The Solar Trade Association’s head of policy Mike Landy said: “This is the antithesis of a sensible policy for achieving better public value for money while safeguarding the British solar industry.”

Renewable UK’s Maf Smith said; “it looks as if the long term vision has been lost” and that they are “damaging changes which undermine investment”.

Scottish Renewables Joss Blamire said the proposals are “quite simply terrible news” and that reducing support “so far, and so quickly, could be hugely damaging”.

Decc stated it is still considering removing FiT pre-acreditation to limit the impact on bill payers of deployment surges in smaller scale renewable technologies. The consultation says: “We are proposing measures to place policy costs on bills on a sustainable footing, improve bill payer value for money, and limit the effects on consumers who ultimately pay for renewable energy subsidies.”

New figures published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the UK Government may not be looking in the right place if it wants to cut energy subsidies. The IMF’s latest analysis estimates that the UK will spend about £26 billion, equivalent to 1.37% of its GDP, on subsidies for fossil fuels this year.

Cluff pulls back from Underground Coal Gasification (UGC) project

There will be some relief at the news that plans for Scotland’s first Underground Coal Gasification (UGC) project have been put on hold.

The developers, Cluff Natural Resources cited the uncertainty over the outcome of the Scottish Government’s energy commission, which reports in September, as well as a motion at the SNP conference for UGC to be included the moratorium on fracking as reasons for the decision to postpone the project. The company’s interim statement says: “We have deemed it prudent to await clarity on these matters before committing fully to, in particular, the expense of an Environmental Impact Study. As a result, work on a planning application will likely be postponed until after such time as the political situation is more certain. Preparatory work including site selection studies, modelling and design work are however well underway.”

Cluff’s statement also gives a clear indication of their concern over local planning pressures and their hope that the Scottish Government might be more sympathetic, it says: “Assuming that with all due respect to our opponents, common sense prevails and political support is forthcoming for the unconventional resources business, it is in the planning context that Government can, and I argue, must, help. In short, planning for approvals for energy related projects should be vested in the control of Central Government.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland, welcomed the news saying; “Cluff is clearly running scared at the strength of feeling within both the community and the SNP grassroots membership, who have put out a powerful call to get Underground Coal Gasification included in the current moratorium on unconventional gas. Cluff has now revised its plans twice regarding the Kincardine UCG project, clearly because it is aware of how unwanted the development is by communities living around the Forth. Underground Coal Gasification is a highly risky technology that has caused widespread environmental damage in test projects around the world. The SNP conference is clearly heading for a very lively debate.”

The political concerns are reflected by John McNally, the MP for Falkirk, who said his SNP colleagues at Westminster viewed unconventional oil and gas with “trepidation” and called for clarity over what is covered by the moratorium.

The SNP’s trade union group has also submitted a resolution to the party’s annual conference in October calling for a total ban on unconventional gas extraction.

John Wilson, the MSP who quit the SNP last September is still waiting for clarification from Fergus Ewing. He said: “I find the Scottish Government is being disingenuous. It would be useful if they came clean sooner rather than later on whether they intend to allow fracking and UCG. It would be interesting to find out if the First Minister and Energy Minister have been pulling the wool over the eyes of not only the electorate but a large number of party members during the Westminster campaign who wore anti-fracking badges with the SNP logo on them.”

There may also be wider economic concerns behind the Cluff decision. The most dramatic change for the energy sector has been a fall in natural gas prices. From a peak of 73p per therm (a unit of heat from gas) in December 2013, the price halved last summer, and now sits at 41p. At this price it is doubtful if any fracking sites in the UK will be profitable. In the US, shale projects are operating at a loss and capital markets are pulling out of the technology they have been so aggressively funding.


Longannet closure undermines a balanced energy policy

We had final confirmation today that Longannet coal-fired power station is to close by the end of March 2016. Not unexpected given Scottish Power’s announcement earlier this year when it wasn’t selected by National Grid for the voltage capacity contract, but a big blow to workers at the plant and the wider Fife economy.

Longannet, which opened in 1972, is one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in Europe. In fact, it has several power units under the same roof, providing flexible generating capacity that Scotland is now desperately short of. The power station employs more than 230 staff, but Scottish Power said it hoped to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Scottish Power, said the high cost of connecting to the grid was to blame. It is certainly the case that discriminatory transmission charges have played a significant role in the closure. Ofgem’s long delayed Project TransmiT has made only small changes to the extra charges that fall on Scottish and North of England generators.

In March, I set out two other reasons for closure. One is company indifference, with only limited investment, partly caused by the parent company’s capital funding pressures. The other is UK and Scottish government energy policy. The reliance on intermittent wind power means that we are having to import energy from England for part of one day in five. The closure of Longannet will undoubtably increase that reliance.

National Grid accepts in their Future Energy Scenarios that the UK faces a tighter energy crunch than last year, with more contingency measures needed to ensure the lights stay on. The gap between total electricity generating capacity and peak demand would fall to just 1.2% without measures in place such as paying moth-balled power plants, like Peterhead in Scotland, to be ready to come online and paying factories to be prepared to power down if needed. These are tight margins and it would have been prudent to keep Longannet going until new capacity kicks in from 2018.

Scottish Power has also confirmed that it is abandoning plans to build a new gas-fired power station at Cockenzie in East Lothian. Again not unexpected, given the economics of gas plants and discriminatory transmission charges. However, that would have provided dispatchable power to balance the system in Scotland.

Scotland needs a balanced energy generation policy. Today’s announcements means the balance will be coming from elsewhere in the UK. It also remains to be seen if there is enough capacity in the system to keep the lights on if we have a cold winter.


CMA report dismally fails energy consumers

The long awaited report by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the market dominance of the Big 6 energy companies, turned out to be the damp squid most in the industry thought it would be.

They found that households paid £8.5bn too much for their power between 2009 and 2013, but blamed customers because they do not switch supplier enough. They claim millions of householders could each save up to £160 a year by switching to a new breed of lower-cost provider.

The CMA resisted calls for a breakup of the Big Six energy companies and instead recommended a price cap on high-cost tariffs and a price comparison website set up and run by the energy regulator, Ofgem.

Roger Witcomb, a CMA non-executive and chairman of the energy market investigation, declined to criticise the big six – British Gas, RWE Npower, SSE, EDF, Scottish Power and E.On – and insisted they had just “behaved in a very commercial way”. Instead he attacked a series of initiatives by Ofgem and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which he argued had failed to bring benefits to consumers.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: “This is a damning indictment of how the energy market is failing consumers, with the biggest suppliers taking advantage of millions of households who have also been hit with the costs of government energy policy.”

Others argued for a more radical approach. Fuel Poverty Action campaign group spokeswoman Laura Hill criticised the CMA for “a piecemeal approach to reform,” adding: “They believe confusing and inaccessible ‘competition’ that we have had for nearly 20 years will eventually prevail and reduce bills, which — as we have seen — is definitely not going to happen. Essentially, the only thing that will deliver lower bills is having a completely new energy system which is public, renewable, democratic and owned by the people instead of being driven the Big Six.”

David Harvey identifies many of the reasons consumers don't switch. They have been bewildered by complicated pricing and paralysed by the belief that changing supplier involves too much hassle and carries the risk of ending up worse off in the long run. The elderly and those without Internet access are particularly vulnerable.

He argues that even consumers with the same energy usage can be different because of where they are and when they use electricity. He concludes that data from smart meters, combined with greater trust in the information provided by comparison websites, will be key to consumers becoming more engaged in understanding their own energy usage and encouraging them to switch suppliers on a regular basis.

The Big Six will have breathed a big sigh of relief over the CMA report. It is also the case that customer service, including the use of overseas call centres, is often poor in low price new entrants. This explains why unions have not supported the break up of the Big Six.

However, the CMA report is a toothless waste of paper that simply churns out the same old competition ideology that has dismally failed the consumer. More radical solutions are needed.



Future Energy Scenarios

Planning the UK’s energy future is a difficult task and getting more challenging. A secure, sustainable and affordable energy supply should be a priority for any government.

National Grid has today published their Future Energy Scenarios 2015 and I was at the launch event. They have developed four scenarios that reflect different political, economic, social, technological and environmental factors:

  • Gone Green is a world where green ambition is not restrained by financial limitations. New technologies are introduced and embraced by society, enabling all carbon and renewable targets to be met on time.
  • Slow Progression is a world where slower economic growth restricts market conditions. Money that is available is spent focusing on low cost long-term solutions to achieve decarbonisation, albeit it later than the target dates.
  • No Progression is a world focused on achieving security of supply at the lowest possible cost. With low economic growth, traditional sources of gas and electricity dominate and there is limited innovation changing how we use energy.
  • Consumer Power is a world of relative wealth, fast paced research and development and spending. Innovation is focused on meeting the needs of consumers, who focus on improving their quality of life.

Probably the most important theme to come out of these scenarios is that Gone Green is the only scenario to achieve all renewable and carbon targets on time. It is also probably the most challenging scenario. Under this scenario, LED lights will be the only viable light bulb option by 2030, renewable power output will be comparable to that of conventional power plants by 2026, and sales of air source heat pumps will top 300k by 2030. Maybe, but you might be a touch sceptical.

In all the scenarios National Grid believe that there will be sufficient gas supplies, although the sources remain uncertain. This big issue is of course shale gas. If large scale planning permissions are not forthcoming, it will be replaced by imported gas.

Electricity margins will continue to be very tight over the next few years until new capacity kicks in from 2018/19. National Grid believe they have that covered with their additional balancing reserve. That will be provided by Peterhead in Scotland. Interconnectors are of growing importance and Great Britain remains a net importer of electricity in three of their four scenarios.

Finally, the grid faces significant operational challenges coping with intermittent wind and solar power rather than conventional power stations.

The presentations were helpful in explaining the scenarios, but the panel discussion was a bit bland. It needed some more challenging panel members and questions.

While there is a cross party consensus on targets, the debate is how to reach them. The recent announcement of onshore wind subsidy creates the very uncertainty that investors hate. Scenarios are all well and good, but someone has to deliver the capacity.

While government still talks about all the objectives, it seems clear that they are prioritising affordability over decarbonisation. There may also be too much focus on supply side, when we should put more effort into reducing demand.

The operational challenges of distributed generation are unlikely to be resolved until we get viable electricity storage options. This is effectively turning the usual supply and demand model on its head and could lead to attempts to persuade energy users to use energy when it’s available. Anyone for windy or sunny day tariffs?

I allow myself a wry smile at events like this when civil servants are quizzed about what is in effect state planning of energy, introduced by a Tory government. This was supposed to be a temporary process, but no one is predicting it’s imminent demise. In fact governments across the world are getting more involved in energy planning. It’s simply to important to leave to the market.

What about Scotland in all this scenario planning. I’m afraid it barely gets a mention in the 200+ page book and the assumption is that imports from England and further afield will plug the gaps in our generating capacity. And gaps there will be when the wind isn’t blowing.

If you want to understand the risks and challenges of our rapidly changing energy system, this is the book for you. But like me, you may conclude that it would be simpler and cheaper to return it all to public ownership.


Finding a future for wind power

As the political storm over the UK government's decision to end subsidies for onshore wind power rumbles on, we take a look at wind power developments in Scotland.

Renewables now generate almost half of Scotland's energy with wind power at record levels, according to the latest data. Wind turbines produced 4,452 gigawatt-hours of electricity in the first three months of this year, up 4.3% on the previous most productive quarter. This is enough to power Scotland’s 960,000 households for a year. Renewable sources provided 49.8% of electricity used in Scotland in 2014, with installed capacity rising by 9%, or 7,383 megawatts.

The cost of wind power has come under attack from economist Tony Mackay, who has claimed that the subsidies paid to onshore wind farms in Scotland are “unnecessarily high” and have led to “supernormal” profits for businesses and landowners. He argues that the subsidies received by wind farms has on average been, “between 2.5 and 3 times what was required to expand wind farm capacity to meet Scottish Government [emissions] targets”.

The explanation for these profits are that while other countries subsidise capital investment, in the UK operating costs and revenue are subsidised. As a consequence electricity bills in Scotland are now around 10% higher than they would be without subsidies. Even with the replacement of the overly generous Renewables Obligations (RO) subsidy scheme with the more limited and competitive Contracts for Difference (CfD) subsidies, the UK will still be “stuck with the current shambles of subsidies for wind energy projects,”. Scottish Renewables responded that subsidies add around 82 pence a week (or 7%) to the average Scottish bill.

Andrew Smith argues that wind power in the UK is more expensive than it should be because of regulatory and planning uncertainty. That adds to developers costs and means that much of the supply chain is outwith the UK. Despite this the latest round of CfD bids shows that it costs about the same as solar.

He argues that government policy could give windfarm developers much greater long-term assurances of a supportive and consistent policy environment, thus lowering their risks and hence lowering costs. This will improve transparency, and reduce the cost of onshore wind further. It would give certainty to investors through decisiveness and leadership, and it would show that the government is taking a pragmatic and cost-effective approach to tackling climate change.

Frederick Dahlmann from Warwick University argues that the future for wind power is locally based wind farm cooperatives using crowd funding. He points to the experience of Denmark and Germany where local authorities are much more engaged in the process. He illustrates his point with a proposal by Yorkshire-based Edgehill, which seeks to raise £2.5m from investors chipping in as little as £50 to build ten turbines in ten different rural locations. With their risks and benefits shared between large numbers of individual investors, these projects are used to keeping locals happy, dealing with NIMBYs, and bringing them on as investors.

A new report by the climate change body ClimateXChange claims that developers sometimes under-assess the impact of wind farm noise and appearance on residents living nearby. The study looked at how the visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts predicted by developers at the planning stage compared to reality. It concluded that in some cases what was set out in planning applications did not match the actual impact. It also found that efforts to engage with the public had not always adequately prepared residents for the visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts of a development.

There might have been wider public support against the UK government's decision to end subsidy early if wind power had delivered the hoped for wider benefits. As Brian Wilson puts it:

“I find it bitterly disappointing that so little of the manufacturing associated with wind farms in Scotland has been carried out here. That is a major failure on the part of the Scottish Government and does no credit to the biggest developers, Scottish Power and SSE, who have had the benefits of major planning consents and vast subsidies through the Renewables Obligation but failed to reciprocate by creating an industry worthy of the name.”

Brian also suggests some practical measures to mitigate the impact of the decision. Specifically support for community based schemes and the islands. As I previously argued, the UK government decision was right in principle, but wrong in terms of timing. There should be room to rescue a viable future for wind power as part of a more balanced energy policy.



Fracking developments

The decision by Lancashire County Council to reject planning applications for shale gas is an important, but not fatal, development to the fracking industry. Certainly not in Scotland.

Lancashire councillors have rejected planning applications by Cuadrilla at Roseacre Wood (June 25) and Little Plumpton (June 29) despite the conditional approval of planning officers. The assessments provided to councillors are based on narrow planning factors and do not include the wider health impact of fracking, or the consequences for climate change.

After a Freedom of Information battle, Defra has been forced to publish the full environmental assessment on fracking. Previously omitted sections reveal that:

  • House prices near fracking wells were likely to fall, and there was a potential reduction of up to 7% in property values within a mile of wells.
  • Properties within a one- to five-mile radius of fracking sites may incur additional insurance costs.
  • Leakage of waste fluids from fracking processes has resulted in environmental damage in the US.
  • Even if contaminated surface water did not directly impact on drinking-water supplies, fracking could affect human health indirectly through consumption of contaminated wildlife, livestock or agricultural products. It concluded that the UK regulatory regime was “likely to be more robust” but the impact on water-resource availability, aquatic habitats and ecosystems, and water quality was “uncertain”.

The publication of this report was opposed by the industry amongst concerns that new ministers are too close to the sector. These concerns have been compounded when it was discovered that Tory MP Paul Maynard, a new advisor to the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, received a £5,000 donation to his local party from a company set to benefit from the introduction of the technique. This donation doesn’t breach parliamentary or electoral rules, but the revelation comes as the debate over fracking and its impact on the environment is provoking fresh controversy.

The tentacles of the fracking industry doesn’t stop at the border. In Scotland, Labour called for a moratorium and then local referendums before developments went ahead. The industry, led by Ineos with its fracking exploration licences across the central belt, were duly outraged.

However, when SNP Energy Minister Fergus Ewing responded by announcing his own, albeit limited moratorium, the industry surprisingly welcomed it. We now know, thanks to FoI, that Nicola Sturgeon was meeting with Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe at the very time the minister made his announcement. However, the Scottish Government is reluctant to tell us what she actually said to Ineos.

Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, has been teasing out the detail of the moratorium that may explain why the industry is relaxed about the moratorium. It now appears that it doesn’t cover testing and preparatory drilling, or Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), a technique many consider more dangerous than fracking that is technically offshore but requires onshore infrastructure.

Last week, John Swinney called for potential profits from fracking to be devolved to Holyrood. He claimed it was merely for “policy completeness”, but opponents said it offered fresh evidence that behind the scenes, the SNP was paving the way to give fracking the go ahead.

As Daniel Sanderson put it in The Herald, “A moratorium that, five months on and with Ineos never planning be engaged in full-scale fracking for several years anyway, is yet to have been shown to be anything other than an exercise in political misdirection.”


Wind farm subsidy – right policy, wrong timing

The UK government decision to exclude new onshore wind farms from a subsidy scheme a year earlier than planned, is the right energy policy, but wrong on timing.

The subsidies, which are paid for by consumers, will end from 1 April 2016 although there will be a grace period for projects which already have planning permission. In a statement to the House of Commons, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said that taking into account the early closure of the Renewable Obligation for onshore wind, the UK will have 11.6GW of onshore wind supported by the mechanism, alongside 0.75GW supported by contracts for difference. This is within their medium range of expectations.

Scottish Renewables said the move was “neither fair nor reasonable” and they claim Scotland could lose £3bn in investment. Chief executive Niall Stuart said it was “bad for jobs, bad for investment and can only hinder Scotland and the UK's efforts to meet binding climate change targets”.

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “The latest figures show that with all the wind projects already constructed, those under construction or given consent we have already met the SNPs 100% target for renewable electricity. What Scotland now urgently needs is a balanced energy policy with wind as part of the mix, but only one component rather than being the primary focus.”

It's hard to disagree with that analysis of the need for a balanced energy policy. Onshore wind is too large an element of the current mix in Scotland. However, it ignores the impact of stop start energy policy on investment. Once a plan has been set, in this case subsidy for new projects until 2017, government should leave the industry with that certainty.

For that reason I agree with Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing's view that Decc’s decision will “cause huge uncertainty for investors not only onshore but across the renewables sector as a whole”. That doesn't change my view on the Scottish Government's unbalanced energy policy, but he is right on timing.

There will be much political sound and fury, followed by the possibility of legal challenge. Companies who have invested in plans on the basis of the 2017 end of the Renewables Obligation may well be able to argue that they had a reasonable expectation that the subsidy regime would be in place. There may be some wriggle room by defining the grace period flexibly.

So, while the UK government is right in terms of energy mix, they are wrong to bring the date forward. Energy policy has to be for the long term, this is another example of the short-termism that has bedevilled the industry.



PS. Brian Wilson's column in the Scotsman on the same subject is definitely worth a read.


Scotland’s world leading climate legislation needs world leading action

This is a crucial year for the planet as world leaders meet in Paris in December to thrash out a new international agreement on climate change. As Lord Stern, and others, warned last month, pledges made to date in advance of the UN talks will not be enough to keep global warming rises below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. Scotland, with its claimed world-leading legislation, must step up its efforts to ensure future targets are met.

Action in the public sector and the energy industry will be particularly significant for UNISON Scotland members.

We are pleased that the Scottish Government is now introducing a statutory duty for public bodies to report on climate change duties, something UNISON Scotland urged at the outset. However, it is disappointing that the delay has meant the loss of several years in establishing a consistent and reliable reporting regime. The new reporting format could also be stronger as set out in our submission to the consultation.

As we also warned, voluntary reporting has fallen considerably short of what is needed. Some local authorities have not reported at all, others report in different year, or choose what categories of emissions to report on (even in different years). This means aggregation of emissions data and comparison from one to another is not reliable.

Reporting is of course only the first step – public bodies need to take action. One way they could do this is by supporting trade union Green Representatives. The current public sector duty is far too ‘top down’, relying on outdated heroic leadership models. We need to win over the workplace and Green Reps can be part of that. Where it has been tried, it has also helped spread the message into local communities.

Another issue the public sector can help with, particularly through pension fund investment and planning, is the carbon bubble. A carbon bubble is inflating because the value of fossil fuel companies continues to be based upon the assumption that all their known fossil fuel reserves will be burned. Yet the scientific reality is that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we cannot afford to burn more than one third (perhaps less) of all known fossil fuel reserves. This risk is not even being assessed in Scotland yet.

Then there is procurement. UNISON Scotland and the ‘Ten Asks’ coalition have set out a number of ideas to strengthen the procurement regulations on environmental issues. With some £11bn being spent in the private sector this could have a big reach.

The public sector reporting delay has coincided with four years of missed emissions reduction targets. In March, the UK Committee on Climate Change said for the fourth time that more action is needed in Scotland to meet future targets, particularly in low-carbon heat, energy efficiency, the public sector, transport, and agriculture and land use sectors.

The Scottish Government’s own reporting is better than the UK government and more transparent, but actions can still be a vague and data fudged. For example, carbon assessment is only done on direct spending like bridges and roads, instead of also looking at the consequences such as car use on these links.

To meet long term targets in a country like Scotland we need to make transformational changes in sectors like agriculture. A quarter of emissions come from agriculture. Land management practices like fertiliser use should be linked to subsidies and greater effort made to meet forestry planting targets.

In the energy sector we should ensure that environmental justice and social justice go hand in hand. For example, energy subsidies for renewables and other forms of energy are paid for by consumers irrespective of ability to pay. Renewable heat projects and community energy are at a small scale and need national incentives to promote at the scale required. Community energy needs to be made easier with council involvement, loan guarantees and expert help.

The big shift is needed in transport, even if that is possibly the most difficult. There is a nervousness in government about public reaction to this, but there is growing evidence that the public gets it. Climate challenge fund projects may not have resulted in much emission reduction, but has been helpful in raising awareness. We need to think about reducing the need to travel, creating sustainable communities without any need for commuting. The real lesson from countries like Denmark is that they join up their thinking on these issues and produce integrated solutions.

An obvious concern for our members will be the impact on jobs. Many are right to be sceptical about just transition arrangements as renewables have delivered fewer jobs than promised, particularly in manufacturing and the supply chain. Despite industry claims, fracking is unlikely to provide more than a handful of jobs, certainly compared to energy efficiency. The new Fair Work Convention could take a sectoral approach to education and skills as well as just transition.

In Scotland we have ambitious targets to tackle climate change, but not always the joined up thinking and vital action to achieve those targets. World leading legislation needs world leading action.


Pre-payment meters masking fuel poverty

Pre-payment energy meters are being used to mask the real levels of fuel poverty in the UK.

An investigation by BBC 5 Live has highlighted that more than half a million pre-payment energy meters have been forcibly installed in people's homes over the last six years. Energy suppliers can gain a court order to install a pre-pay meter when customers run up debt.

Citizens Advice said pre-pay customers got a “raw deal”, paying £80 a year more on average than direct debit customers. Audrey Gallacher of Citizens Advice, described the figures as “concerning”, but “not a big surprise”, and said that an increasing number of people had contacted the organisation complaining of problems with the devices. “Pre-payment meter customers can't take advantage of the competitive energy market,” she added. “Many people become trapped on them and can't get a better deal.”

Energy watchdog Ofgem said it would be “looking into reasons behind the increase in the number of PPMs installed for non-payment of debt on a warrant visit. Suppliers can only install a pre-payment meter where it is safe and reasonably practical for the consumer to use”. However, we won't be holding our breath on this. Ofgem investigations often last for years and rarely deliver a significant outcome.

This evidence adds to recent research by the Debt Advisory Centre, that found 4.7 million people are regularly cut-off from pre-paid electricity, and one in 10 have arrears on their water, gas or electricity accounts. A quarter of British people say they rely on expensive pre-pay meters, due to previous struggles with bills, or because they need help to manage their energy spend.

More than four million people in the UK say that they often cannot afford to top up their gas meters. Of these, 18% say they are cut-off from their gas meter every few months, while as many as 7% lose their gas supply at least once a week because they can’t afford to top-up the energy key.

Earlier this year an analysis from the House of Commons library showed that the average household’s annual energy bill is now £260 more than it was in 2010. Electricity and gas bills for the poorest households rose by 40 per cent and 53 per cent in cash terms between 2010 and 2013.

Sadly, action on fuel poverty is unlikely to feature in tomorrow's Queen's speech. A manifesto survey by Energy Action Scotland, supported by UNISON Scotland, showed a limited range of actions being proposed by the political parties. Considerably short of the radical steps required to eradicate fuel poverty. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 created a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people are not living in fuel poverty in Scotland by November 2016.

One of the reasons fuel poverty is a low priority is because cold houses are being masked by expensive pre-payment meters. At the very least pre-payment should be the lowest, not the highest tariff.




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