Utility Week

Utility Week 8th November 2013

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Page 24 of 31

Customers This week Water Price hikes from four of the big six companies drive users into arms of independent energy firms Thames Water to roll out first smart meters in Bexley Customers switching to smaller suppliers Independent energy suppliers are benefiting from this year's "switching season" after price hike announcements from four of the big six suppliers. First Utility has seen 100,000 new customer connections (gas or electricity), expanding its number of connections by 50 Fanning the flames: customer anger rising per cent. Ian McCaig, chief executive of First Utility, said the influx of new customers "exceeded all our expectations and reflects a desire for consumers to choose an alternative to the big six". Ecotricity's customer base has grown by 6,000 or "about 7 or 8 per cent" since the start of October, to 83,000, and a spokesman said the switching rate over the past month was double the average. In the last week of October "we were getting up to five times what we normally would", he said. Co-operative Energy also gained 6,000 customers in October, and said a similar number were going through the switching process. Ovo was expected to be a big winner after chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick's appearance before the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee last month, but the company did not release any customer acquisition numbers. A spokesperson said the increase in switches was "definitely a start, but at the moment that is all that it is – a start". Good Energy tweeted: "We're receiving a lot of calls at the moment from people interested in switching. Sorry for the long queue times – please bear with us." MB Thames Water is to roll out smart meters in Bexley, southeast London, next year. Thames hopes the technology will encourage the 3.5 million households in its patch to be more water efficient in a region described by the Environment Agency as "seriously waterstressed". The smart meters automatically collect water usage data every 15 minutes. The company's metering programme will be carried out borough by borough, at what a spokesperson described as a "sensible pace". According to Thames, by mid2015, 73 per cent of customers in Bexley will have a water meter – up from 27 per cent of homes today. Electricity Ecotricity signs up RSPB The RSPB has signed a deal with Ecotricity to supply its 127 sites across the UK with renewable power, it announced on Monday. The bird life protection charity said the move was part of its continued commitment to green energy. The charity estimates that its annual energy consumption – about 3.5GWh a year – would lead to carbon dioxide emissions of about 1,500 tonnes if all the electricity was generated using fossil fuels. Harry Huyton, head of energy policy at the RSPB, said: "Switching to a green energy company like Ecotricity is one of the most powerful and easy steps that individuals and businesses can take to speed the transition to a low-carbon economy." Energy Consumers' trust in energy firms plumbs new depths Consumer trust in the energy sector has hit an all-time low, according to the latest poll from consumer watchdog Which? (see I am the Customer, below). The organisation's Consumer Insight Tracker survey revealed that only 15 per cent of consumers trust energy companies to act in their best interest, down from 27 per cent last quarter. It is the lowest level since the tracker was introduced in July 2012. The survey also revealed that 59 per cent of consumers lack trust in energy companies, making them the most distrusted consumer industry sector, lower than banking (33 per cent), and train companies (27 per cent). I am the customer Richard Lloyd Consumers are reeling from the inflation-busting price hikes we've seen from energy companies in the past few weeks. Our latest findings reveal that consumers' trust in the energy industry has plummeted to a new low. Only one in seven (15 per cent) say they trust energy companies to act in their best interest and six in ten (59 per cent) say they lack trust in energy companies, making energy the most distrusted of all consumer industry sectors. "The most distrusted of all consumer sectors is energy" There will be no great applause for the government's Annual Energy Statement either, as this was chiefly a commitment to make Ofgem do its job. We are calling on George Osborne to use his Autumn Statement to help hard-pressed consumers this winter and to act on prices in the long term. We want him to inject more competition into the energy market. With wholesale costs the biggest part of our rising energy bills, this market must be made more competitive to help keep prices in check. We want to see a separation of the wholesale energy market from domestic supply. The chancellor must also commit to cut the cost of g overnment energy policies that we can't afford and to control the costs being added to consumers' bills. When Osborne stands up to deliver his Autumn Statement on 4 December, we need him to stand up for the millions of consumers who are grappling with rising energy costs. Nothing less will do. Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director UTILITY WEEK | 8th - 14th November 2013 | 25

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