Call for power plan control

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The Independent Online
The House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee is expected to call for a clampdown on electricity companies' plans to attack the domestic gas market.

The committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the opening of the gas market, is concerned that regional electricity monopolies will have too much of an advantage over rival companies, as they already have metering and billing systems in place and have an existing relationship with households.

Most of the regional electricity companies already have gas supply businesses and are keen to attack the domestic market in competition with British Gas and others, including North Sea producers. The Government has said competition will be introduced in 1996, with the market fully open in 1998.

The committee is unlikely to ask for a complete ban on electricity firms.

However there are worries about their existing monopoly over domestic electricity supply, which lasts until 1998. The issue may be raised today when the committee takes evidence from the industry regulator, Ofgas, and from Timothy Eggar, Minister for Industry and Energy.

The committee's investigation comes at a sensitive time for the Government, which is prevaricating over whether to introduce legislation to allow competition in the supply of gas to 18 million households.

The committee, which is expected to report within weeks, will not oppose competition but is likely to demand assurances that new supply companies should not be allowed to cherry-pick. There are also fears that safety could be compromised and that new suppliers will not share the universal service and social obligations borne now by British Gas.