28 April 2012

The Big Six Energy Bash

Chances are you get your gas and electricity supplied by one of half a dozen gigantic global energy conglomerates. The British companies Centrica (which trades as British Gas) and Scottish & Southern Electricity; together with the Germans E.On and RWE the latter trading as NPower; Scottish Power, now a subsidiary of the Spanish utility Iberdrola; and finally EDF, the French state owned nuclear power operator, which in a move of Orwellian brilliance has taken to advertising itself using a Union Jack washed green. 

Between them they control over 99% of the domestic UK power market and effectively run energy policy in this country through their contacts with politicians and civil servants. Efforts by OFGEM, the regulator, to make the energy markets more competitive and ensure suppliers behave in a better manner to their customers have shown a singular lack of success (see the note at the end) in the face of their dominant market position. 

If we are going to meet the challenge of decarbonising our energy supply as our climate change targets demand, then the best hope lies in a focus on smaller scale local power generation (distributed production) rather than the big centralised power stations we have relied on in recent years. But this demands a dramatic change in the structure of the power market and it’s not one that these companies want to see happen because it would directly challenge their domination of the market and thus their profitability. 

On Thursday 3rd May the representatives of these companies will be meeting with politicians in London at the UK Energy Summit. There we can expect them to be pushing to maintain their grip on our power supplies and their enormous profit streams. In protest the Climate Justice Collective, a grassroots network of UK groups and individuals, is organising an event called the Big Six Energy Bash, a day of direct action against corporate control and in favour of energy democracy. 

If you want to find out more about the reasons for the protest and how you can get involved then just go along to the website and sign up to one of the groups making plans for action on the day. 

Even if you can’t get involved in the event you can still take direct action by moving your energy supply away from this group. There are alternatives out there though you have to look a bit harder to find them. Personally I use Ecotricity to supply both my electricity and gas, they are investing more per customer than any other company in building new supplies of green energy. There are others too like Good Energy, Green Energy, Co-Operative Energy; and gradually a number of smaller energy co-operatives are being formed across the country. Don’t be fooled though by the green tariffs which the big 6 have all introduced; you pay more but it doesn’t lead to any more green electricity being produced, just accounting for who is consuming it differently.

So do what you can and let's break this stranglehold which these big corporates have on our energy supply system.

NB An OFGEM report on the retail market published last year “demonstrated that further action is needed to make sure energy retail markets in Great Britain work in the interests of consumers”. It found that on a range of objectives covering market structure, supplier behaviour and consumer engagement the situation had deteriorated on four; was unchanged on seven; slightly improved on two and improved on just one.

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