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Energy companies bust: Government not ‘complacent’, Kwarteng insists amid claims Ofgem warned of crisis

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Andy Gregory
Thursday 23 September 2021 16:12
'We've got the perfect storm', says London mayor about energy crisis

The government has not been complacent over the energy crisis, Kwasi Kwarteng has insisted, after Labour’s Ed Miliband produced a letter he claimed was sent by regulator Ofgem to the business secretary 18 months ago warning of a “systemic risk” to the UK’s energy market.

A 250 per cent spike in wholesale gas prices has caused seven firms to collapse in a matter of weeks, with Avro Energy and Green becoming the latest to fold.

As figures from the regulator showed nearly 1.5 million households have now suffered their suppliers going bust, junior minister Paul Scully said it was “not going to be possible” to guarantee that their bills would not rise – contradicting assertions by Mr Kwarteng days earlier that customers being transferred to new providers should “be expected to pay the same amount”.

While all customers affected will continue to receive energy until Ofgem allocates them to a new – possibly more expensive – supplier, the regulator’s boss Jonathan Brearley warned MPs that the number of households affected “may well go well above” the hundreds of thousands.

Mr Scully also said it would be up to the energy watchdog to decide whether the price cap should rise. It is currently due to next be reviewed in April.

The business minister told Sky News the government was “planning for the worst-case scenario”, which he said was that gas prices would remain high beyond a short spike.

Both Mr Kwarteng and the regulator have insisted the cap should remain in place.


With Ofgem’s chief warning that many more people could be affected by collapsing firms, my colleague Conrad Duncan has this explainer on what to do if your energy supplier goes bust.

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 09:49

Government was warned of fragile energy market, trade association chief says

The government has been warned repeatedly of how fragile the energy market is, the chief of trade association Energy UK has said.

'MPs were warned of the fragile industry', says Energy UK chief on energy crisis
Andy Gregory23 September 2021 10:05

Letters: Destructive populism is leading us down a dark path

In a letter to The Independent, Robert Boston from Kent writes:

At the outset of the First World War, the foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, presciently said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

More than 100 years later I am certain that if Sir Edward was alive now he would be making an equally erudite point, but with one major difference: "The lamps most assuredly will not be going out all over Europe, only here in the UK."

And given that I am older than he was then, I fear the second part of his wise words coming to pass, literally and metaphorically, unless our politicians cease this destructive populism.

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 10:27

Former BP gas chief urges rethink of gas procurement in UK

The current surge in prices should spark a rethink of the UK’s approach to gas procurement, BP’s former gas chief has suggested.

“The level of gas prices in the UK right now are eye-wateringly high. I don’t recall seeing prices at this sort of level since the Fukushima crisis pulled a lot gas out away from Europe and into Asia,” said David Knipe, now a partner in Oliver Wyman’s energy and natural resources practice.

“The surge in prices should give us pause to consider the UK’s overall approach to gas procurement.”

“As a country we choose to effectively buy our gas largely at spot prices, which has benefited us over many years as spot gas prices have been relatively cheap,” Mr Knipe said. “However, when worldwide gas shortages occur, we are exposed to the resulting price spike.

“Japan takes an alternative approach, choosing to buy much of their gas on long-term oil linked contacts with price caps to limit the upside, but also compensating price floors to protect the producers. As a consequence, their consumers are seeing very little impact from the worldwide price spike. However, the quid pro quo of this is that they did not benefit from the periods of cheap gas.”

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 10:48

My colleague Adam Forrest has more details from junior minister Paul Scully’s media round this morning, notably his comments about government officials having “lots of conversations” about a possible energy cap increase with Ofgem and energy companies.

The energy price cap imposes limits on costs for 11 million people on default tariffs – but struggling energy firms want it scrapped so they can pass on higher gas prices to customers.

Government in talks over rise in energy price cap, says minister

Business minister gives clearest indication yet that cap on gas and electricity prices may have to rise

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:02

Ed Miliband produces Ofgem letter ‘warning Kwarteng of systemic risk to energy supply sector'

Ed Miliband has brandished a letter he claims Ofgem wrote to then energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng last year “warning about systemic risk to the energy supply sector as a whole”, which could place “significant burden and costs” on the public purse.

Labour’s shadow secretary for energy accused the government of leaving the UK “dangerously exposed”.

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:17

Government has not been ‘complancent’, minister insists

Responding in the Commons to Ed Miliband, who produced a letter sent last year by Ofgem which warned of a “systemic risk” to the UK’s energy market, Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the government had “not been complacent”.

The business secretary said: “The whole point about the supplier of last resort process which was interrogated last year is that it is an organised process, well established, which can allow existing strong companies to absorb customers in failure.

“I remember the [Ofgem] letter last year. We interrogated all through the Covid process the systems that we had in place and during that period the supplier of last resort was found to work. So far this year it has been found to work.”

He added that the “special administration regime” the government had prepared for energy crises was in place if needed.

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:21

Here’s footage of small business minister Paul Scully defending the government’s decision not to bail out energy companies.

Minister for Small Business defends the Government’s 'no bail out' strategy for energy crisis
Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:25

Kwarteng claims criticism of UK’s limited gas storage is a ‘complete red herring’

Kwasi Kwarteng has dismissed the claims the UK’s limited gas storage capacity is causing prices to soar, arguing it is actually a “strength” rather than a weakness.

Labour’s Matt Western told MPs: “Why is it that the storage capacity of the UK is just 2 per cent annual demand versus 25 per cent in Europe as an average. Is that part of the reason we don't have energy price resilience?"

Mr Kwarteng replied: “Only yesterday, there was a conference of EU energy ministers to discuss this very problem.

“It is not a function of storage to be able to mitigate a quadrupling of the gas price. This is a complete red herring. And one of the reasons why we have less storage is because we have a greater diversity of energy supply. That is a strength, not a weakness.”

Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:39

‘We’ve got the perfect storm,’ Sadiq Khan warns

London’s mayor has lent his voice to warnings of a “perfect storm” for residents facing cuts to universal credit and rising energy bills.

Sadiq Khan alleged that the crisis “is a consequence of government’s shambolic policy over the years”, adding: “We should be diversifying our fuel supply” to include more renewable energy.

'We've got the perfect storm', says London mayor about energy crisis
Andy Gregory23 September 2021 11:59

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