Bosses of the UK’s power network operators were told off for “utter complacency” today in the wake of Christmas storms which led to power cuts for 460,000 people.
Representatives from UK Power Networks, Western Power Distribution, SSE, Electricity North West, ScottishPower and trade body Energy Networks Association appeared in front of MPs to defend themselves.
Chair of the parliament’s energy watchdog, MP Tim Yeo, slammed them for “exploiting their privilege” as effectively monopoly service providers and “showing neglect for customers which I find astonishing”.
He did recognise the efforts of engineers working hard over the Christmas period.
However he said the power network companies have made Energy Secretary Ed Davey “look ridiculous” in his claim of a 3 digit helpline – similar to 999 – for power cuts, as they were still only looking into it.
Pressed by an exasperated MP, Dr Phillip Lee (pictured, right), about which parts of transmission lines were “weak points”, Basil Scarsella, Chief Executive of UK Power Networks (left) said there weren’t any.
When Dr Lee asked if any of them had thought about putting all of the UK’s power cables underground, the power bosses were silent.
Mark Mathieson, Managing Director of SSE’s Networks business finally said it would cost “tens of billions of pounds” to do so.
Earlier, the execs claimed staffing levels during the storm were at an acceptable level and blamed the extreme weather for hitting large parts of the country rather than just pockets.
This meant they were unable to offer each other the “mutual aid” they usually do.
Rob Symons, Chief Executive of Western Power Distribution and Mr Mathieson both said they had a minimum of 50% staff working when storms hit over Christmas while Mr Scarsella said they’d bumped up that number to 75%.
Mr Mathieson said ground saturation – that is, water-logged earth – “made a difference”, telling of engineers repairing power lines in a boat on a flooded field while huge trees had been ripped from the earth by winds.
David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association was also forced to apologise when he couldn’t come up with a number for total power cuts “off the top of his head”.
Mr Yeo replied: “As the trade body… it doesn’t appear you’re on top of the problem.”