Blog: Gale force MPs knock network bosses off their comfy perch

They operate out of sight, out of mind. They don’t contact us, we don’t contact them. We don’t know who they are, or what they do – that is, until […]

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By Vicky Ellis

They operate out of sight, out of mind. They don’t contact us, we don’t contact them. We don’t know who they are, or what they do – that is, until fair weather turns foul.

Who are these shadowy mystery men and women? The power network firms of course!

Affectionately known as the DNOs – distribution network operators to you and me – they are the link between homes or businesses to the national power towers and cables which in turn carry energy from power stations.

Much like the country’s water companies, the UK’s 14 network operators – run by six bigger DNOs – operate an effective monopoly.

Their comfy perch looked less inviting yesterday when five execs were hauled before MPs to explain why thousands were left without power over Christmas.

Feathers were ruffled by chair of parliament’s energy watchdog Tim Yeo, whose displeasure could have knocked over fences – if not trees.

He puffed: “The tone of this discussion has been utter complacency from all of you… We’ve lacked any expression of real concern for your customers.

“This is absolutely typical of a monopoly, particularly monopolies whose charges are not very visible to the customers who have to pay them.”

Earlier Labour MP John Robertson told them to “think outside the box” when they needed help to deal with power cuts.

As the bosses shuffled out having been dealth a stern rebuke, Ofgem interim boss Andrew Wright and the regulator’s network expert Hannah Nixon clearly had their ears pressed to the ground. Ms Nixon wasted no time slipping in a crucial phrase: “There’s no room for complacency.”

You’d hope not. As one MP astutely pointed out, we’re set to electrify much bigger chunks of our daily lives – from driving to smart homes and grids.

Yesterday proved the network operators will no longer be able to hide in the dark behind the Big Six. As awareness grows of how energy costs stack up on bills, they will have to face up to more scrutiny.

Based on a woeful performance in front of MPs – which ranged from a cringing lack of information to sheer obstinacy – it’s clear those at the top had better get their thinking caps on.