BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 08:54 GMT
Power firms face storm fines
Electricity pylons
October's storms saw many power cuts
Electricity companies which fail to do enough to stop homes being left without power could face fines under new government plans.

The proposals follow an official review into the chaos caused by storms in October when hundreds of thousands of homes were cut off for up to 10 days.

People are entitled to know whether the investment is going in which will allow the electricity companies to react when extreme conditions arise

Brian Wilson
Energy Minister
Energy Minister Brian Wilson said some firms had responded very well to those storms, but others were simply not up-to-scratch in their preparations.

He wants incentives for companies that invest in preventing power failures, and punishments for those who try to save cash by failing to prepare properly.

Mr Wilson told BBC News: "People are entitled to know whether the investment is going into the system on an on-going basis which will allow the electricity companies to react in an adequate way when extreme conditions arise."

Falling trees

The review praises companies like Western Power Distribution and Scottish and Southern Energy for the way they coped.

Mr Wilson said he wanted Southern to be the "benchmark" for the rest.

The company had anticipated the storms simply by watching the weather forecasts and ensured teams of workers were primed for action.

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson: Some companies were simply not good enough
The minister explained that 97% of power cuts were caused by falling trees.

Power firms could guard against problems simply by regular tree lopping, he said.

Electricity firm 24Seven, which offered compensation after receiving a stream of complaints, are one of the firms criticised in the report, written by consultants British Power International.

Consumer welcome

Mr Wilson said the firm had invested in computer systems but had not tested them in the right conditions to establish whether they worked.

Under the new plans, regulator Ofgem would allow for investment in preparing for storms when vetting prices.

Those failing to do so would be fined in the same way.

The report was welcomed by Energywatch, the gas and electricity consumer watchdog.

It was a pretty frightening and horrid experience for everybody

Energy Association chief executive Jenny Kirkpatrick

The group's Carole Pitkeathley said: "This report goes a long way in identifying the shortcomings of distributors who were, frankly, woeful: from failing to act on weather warnings, to trying to pretend it was all unavoidable."

Energy Association chief executive Jenny Kirkpatrick told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the industry welcomed the report's recommendations.

It "will be looking, is looking, has looked at what has gone wrong and is completely committed, and without compromise, to improving performance wherever and however possible," she said.

Mr Wilson was "preaching to the converted", Ms Kirkpatrick told Today.

But she added: "Remember the ferocity, the absolute brutality of those winds - it was a pretty frightening and horrid experience for everybody."

'Woeful response'

But the proposals failed to impress shadow industry secretary Tim Yeo, who said ministers were treating the problem "too lightly".

"Vague reference to financial incentives are a woefully inadequate response to a crisis that left some consumers without power for more than a week," said Mr Yeo.

"We want a review of conditions under which compensation is payable to consumers, and of the regulators' remit to ensure that security of supply is recognised as an issue alongside competitive prices."

24seven, which operates in London and East Anglia, faced particular complaints about its phone lines being engaged while households were without power.

The review said its initial response to certain customers had been "good", with 85% reconnected within 18 hours.

But other responses were "less impressive", it said, and the company had not put its staff to work as early as some firms.

Alan Carey, of 24seven, said the company was determined to learn from the storms and be better prepared next time.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jenny Scott
"24seven has admitted it needs to restore customer trust"
  Stephen Reid, Energywatch
"Consumers were wronged"
See also:

07 Nov 02 | England
01 Nov 02 | Business
31 Oct 02 | UK
28 Oct 02 | Business
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes