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The case against renewables has become closely tied to energy bills - a point that the Big Six are using to bolster their anti green energy arguments

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Renewables imperilled: Big Six turn grilling into lobbying

Alex Stevenson

30th October 2013

The Big Six energy bosses turned the tables on MPs and turned their interrogation into a lobbying effort against green energy and energy efficiency.

We're all trying to find out where the money has gone. You will never find it.

The audacity of the energy bosses up before MPs in Westminster, who used their supposed grilling to brazenly lobby against renewable energy, was astounding.

"We need you to help us," William Morris of SSE declared to one frustrated backbencher. He and his colleagues in the Big Six were demanding that the government abandons the green levies which pay for the development of renewable energy in this country. They add around £60 to an annual bill, the energy firms claim (the Department for Energy and Climate Change thinks even £40 is pushing it a bit).

This is money which could be coming off customers' bills in a flash, they argued. We say get it off customers' bills," Morris added, "and delay this drive to decarbonisation".

It was astonishing. In a session when by all the natural laws of Westminster they were supposed to be firmly on the back foot, the Big Six bosses were using the occasion to lobby David Cameron.

It is, as always, the prime minister's fault. His apparently off-the-cuff suggestion in the Commons chamber last week that the coalition should look again at renewable subsidies has given all those with vested interests in the short-term hope. Be in no doubt: a political battle over the future of the UK's renewable energy has recommenced in earnest.

The representatives from the Big Six energy firms facing questioning were painfully aware their position is a difficult, awkward one to hold, nonetheless.

They have put up prices by an average of nine per cent in recent months. And so, for some reason, "ultimately the customers view us as the guys doing it", Morris moaned. Although E.ON's chief executive said his company would try to avoid putting up prices, it didn't impress the MPs present. "My constituents think it's all very wonky," Tory MP Peter Lilley explained.

Now the problem is what to do about it. "Consumers can no longer afford to pay their energy bills," Labour's Ian Lavery boomed. "What are you going to do to help the consumers?"

There is not really a decent answer on offer. The problem for energy companies is the frontline of their defence is the vast amount of investment they pour into the UK. This all helps "keep the lights on", Cocker said, succumbing to the temptation to use the most overused phrase in energy matters.

But this is where it gets confusing. The interplay between the retail and generation parts of the Big Six's businesses means defining profit and loss are not entirely straightforward. This was the context for Lavery to accuse the energy companies of inflating prices when selling energy internally. It was an "outrage", he said. The bosses denied it, of course.

The corporate defences were holding up very well. It was almost too easy. "We're all trying to find out where the money has gone," a relatively young, non-Big Six company chief sitting on the end chirped up helpfully. "You will never find it. These guys are among the best filibusterers in the business."

He was absolutely right. The search for truth has barely advanced an inch. But the case against renewables has now been tied even more closely to that of energy bills. What should have been a platform for scrutiny was, effectively, turned into an opportunity for lobbying the government.

Alex Stevenson is parliamentary editor of politics.co.uk.

Image courtesy of www.shutterstock.com

 

 

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