MPs have accused the bosses of UK energy distribution firms of “utter complacency”, during a hearing investigating the companies’ responses to the stormy weather that led to widespread powercuts over the Christmas period.
Around 750,000 properties were affected as the worst storms to hit the UK for decades left many homes without power, some for as long as five days.
The energy committee is grilling chiefs from the Energy Networks Association, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy, Electricity North West, Western Power Distribution and UK Power Networks in a one-off evidence session on Tuesday. MPs are asking why the it took so long for the companies to restore power to certain areas.
Committee chairman and Conservative MP Tim Yeo said the bosses appearing before him had no “expression of real concern” for the thousands of people affected.
After initial questioning, Yeo said the “tone of this conversation and its contents has been utter complacency”.
He called their behaviour “absolutely typical of a monopoly, particularly a monopoly whose charges are not very visible to the customers who have to pay them”.
The committee reacted with surprise when David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, could not tell them definitively how many people had been without power for more than 24 hours.
Yeo criticised Smith for being unable to give “the most basic information on a totally predictable question”.
The bosses defended their emergency plans, insisting that the crisis was caused by the severity of the weather rather than weaknesses in their system.
“We have a methodology that estimates the damage expected on the network based on the wind speeds. But the wind speed and the weather forecast escalated significantly and went from 40-50mph winds on the Friday to 50-60mph for our area, and escalated to 70-80mph on the Sunday”, said UK Power Networks chief Basil Scarsella.
“This was a national storm and it lasted over two or three days. There is a well-tested mutual aid system which enables any of us to call on our colleagues to send additional resources.
“But because of the severity of the storm and the national nature of the storm we were not able to provide additional resources to other networks or indeed receive additional resources.”
Mark Mathieson, managing director of Scottish and Southern Energy’s electricity networks, said the problems were caused by a “unique” weather situation, suggesting that customers understood these circumstances.
Officials from Ofgem also appeared before the MPs today. The regulator has already warned that some of the companies may face fines because of their unsatisfactory response times.