British Parliament May Enforce Purchase of Green Power

LONDON, England, January 25, 2000 (ENS) - The British government will have the power to require electricity suppliers to generate a portion of their power from renewable energy sources, if a new bill placed before Parliament becomes law.

The Utilities Bill was introduced late last week to “ensure first class utilities for all consumers at lower prices and put right the deficiencies of the present structure which fails to ensure effective competition,” said Trade & Industry Secretary Stephen Byers. The proposed legislation is part of the government's program to reform the power industry in Britain.

The bill, which must now be debated by Parliament, is the first major reform in over a decade for the way in which the country's privatised utilities are regulated.

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Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers (Photo courtesy UK government)
The Bill gives Byers the right to enforce the purchase of green power, including the power to impose financial penalties on suppliers that do not purchase sufficient renewable energy.

The country’s first utility, British Telecom, was privatised 15 years ago, and the government wants a more consistent regulatory framework that will benefit both customers and utilities. Power bills are predicted to fall by at least 10 percent as a result of the new law.

"This Bill will ensure that consumers and businesses get a fair deal from our utilities,” said Byers. “It will tackle the rigged electricity market created when the industry was privatised and put in place a modern framework for utility regulation.”

The proposals include new objectives for government regulators that are designed to protect consumer interests and the right to impose tough fines on companies that are found guilty of bad practice or poor performance, including interruptions to the supply of power and the speed of reconnecting customers. There will be no upper limit on the fines the regulator can impose.

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Power lines in England (Photo courtesy FreeFoto.com)
Independent consumer councils will be established for the gas and electricity industries, as well as the telecommunications and water utilities, to investigate customer complaints.

The Bill will require companies that provide price-regulated services to disclose how they link the pay of their directors to the levels of customer service.

"We will have new powers which will help us to meet our climate change targets by improving energy efficiency,” added Environment Minister Michael Meacher. “We will have powers to set requirements for energy utilities to encourage and help low income and other customers to make better use of energy and to save money.”

The Bill will contain provisions that were announced by government officials in July 1998 and last October. Additional measures to deal with cross-utility issues and specific energy measures will be introduced later as the Bill is debated by the Commons Committee.

While welcoming substantial parts of the new package, environmental groups have attacked the draft law for being too vague and stressed that the government was actually committing itself to doing virtually nothing for the environment. NGOs also claim that a new electricity trading mechanism proposed under the law would actually harm renewables, combined heat and power and smaller generators.