Pay an extra £5 to stop the lights going out, MPs tell householders

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The Independent Online

Households should pay an extra £5 a year on their electricity bills to help ensure that the lights do not go out because of under-investment in the transmission grid, an influential committee of MPs recommended yesterday.

Households should pay an extra £5 a year on their electricity bills to help ensure that the lights do not go out because of under-investment in the transmission grid, an influential committee of MPs recommended yesterday.

The Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee also urged the industry regulator Ofgem, to ease up on its constant demands for greater efficiency, warning that the pressure to minimise spending could prove counter-productive for network performance.

The MPs said that although blackouts such as those experienced in the US and Italy last year were unlikely here, insufficient investment was currently going into the upkeep of the national and local electricity transmission networks.

Martin O'Neill, the Labour chairman of the committee, said that when the electricity networks were publicly owned there had been a tendency to "gold plate" them. "The gold plating is now getting a bit thin and tarnished and needs to be replaced," he added. "If we don't, then within the next five to 10 years we will be in a position where under-investment is a problem. The lights are not likely to go out quickly but they could go out slowly."

The MPs also highlighted the dangers of skill shortages in the electricity industry although, again, they said that this was not an immediate problem.

Expenditure by the owners of the national transmission grid and the local distribution networks needs to double, the MPs said. In the case of the National Grid alone, this means increasing investment from £150m to £300m a year.

The MPs said badly organised maintenance arrangements rather than under investment was to blame for last summer's blackout in London which brought the Tube to a halt.

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