Utility Week

UTILITY Week 8th January 2016

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UTILITY WEEK | 8TH - 14TH JANUARY 2016 | 27 Customers Analysis A s severe storms hit the UK over Christmas, the government bowed to pressure to review flood defence spending, and water companies may have a role to play. Aer vicious November storms, further bad weather struck over Christmas, caus- ing "devastating" flooding in many parts of the country and forcing the government to admit that flood defence spending will have to be reviewed. Yorkshire Water was hit particularly hard by storms Eva and Frank, and was forced to dra in extra manpower and essential equipment from Wessex Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and Welsh Water. And the bad weather looks set to con- tinue, the Environment Agency has warned, with Storm Gertrude hitting the West Country now and Storm Henry to follow. At the time of going to press, 21 flood warnings and 130 flood alerts are in force across the UK. Sewerage companies are currently responsible for protecting their vital assets (water pumping stations and treatment works) from being flooded, as well as clear- ing properties affected by sewer flooding. But murmurs in the industry that they could be given a greater role in larger flood defence work have grown louder. Ofwat chief executive Cathryn Ross sug- gested in October that now would be a good time for a debate on whether water firms could play a greater role in flood defence schemes, saying she could envisage "a situation in which water companies could perform useful functions around flood pro- tection and flood defences". The regulator did, however, emphasise that any such deci- sion is a matter for government. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tells Utility Week it has no plans to review the role of water com- panies when it comes to flooding. However, aer what has been described as the "worst flooding in 70 years", and with the govern- ment pledging a review of flood defence spending, the time seems ripe for a discus- sion on the role water firms can play. The feeling in the sector is mixed. Although Water UK, the trade association for the sector, declined to comment, Sev- ern Trent Water has voiced its support for a debate on water firms' role in flood defences, telling Utility Week that it's an "interesting idea", but ultimately a question for govern- ment. "In the meantime, we're concentrat- ing on protecting our customers from sewer flooding, which is obviously incredibly important, especially at this time of year," a spokesperson for the firm says. Anglian Water argues that, although the floods this Christmas were "extreme", part- nership working can help resolve flooding issues locally without "sweeping reform" of ownership and responsibilities. The prime minister announced a pack- age of more than £40 million to rebuild and improve flood defences in the aermath of Storm Eva alone, taking investment in recov- ery from Storm Eva and Storm Desmond to nearly £200 million. However, Environment Agency dep- uty chief executive David Rooke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a need for a "complete rethink" on flood defence, and the major change in emphasis he was looking for was resilience. And with December a record-breaking month for rain- fall in many parts of the UK, and flooding becoming an ever more common occurrence, the government may be forced to reconsider the role of water companies as well. Eye of the storm Extreme weather is becoming the new normal. What should be the role of water firms? By Lois Vallely and Lucinda Dann. Energy networks battle to restore power Three distribution network operators have been battling to restore power to tens of thousands of customers over the festive period aer storms Desmond, Eva and Frank brought flooding to the north of Britain, cutting electricity supplies. Electricity North West (ENW), Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution (SHEPD) and Northern Powergrid faced repeated power losses because of flooding, but the Energy Networks Association (ENA) said networks pulled together to ensure customers were reconnected as quickly as possible, and all customers are now back on supply. The ENA said it worked throughout the crisis to aid the sharing of resources, providing telecon- ferences for network company emergency managers so support could be effectively organised. A spokesperson for the ENA said: "The long-standing NEWSAC mutual aid agreements helped with equipment, vehicles and engineers, including generators and helicopters to assess damage, plan repair work and get customers' power restored as quickly and safely as possible." SHEPD faced the brunt of reconnections, with 50,000 homes losing power as Storm Frank hit the north of Scotland on 29 December. All customers were back on supply by the aernoon of New Year's Eve and the network had returned to "business as usual" by New Year's Day. However, 100 engineers were on the ground in Ballater, an area particularly badly hit by flooding, checking customers' equipment for safety on New Year's Day, and welfare vans were kept in the area to help customers aer power was restored. The area served by ENW was affected by all three of the Christmas storms. The company had to restore power to 3,000 customers aer high winds from Storm Frank, and 26,000 customers were le without power in Lancashire and Greater Manchester aer flooding caused by Storm Eva. ENW was also significantly affected at the beginning of December by Storm Desmond when it had to reconnect 55,000 homes in Lancashire and a further 13,000 homes in Cumbria. It was sup- ported in its efforts by generators and engineers donated under the NEWSAC agreements. Northern Powergrid had to reconnect a total of 102,500 homes aer storms Desmond and Eva, but was largely unaffected by Storm Frank despite making preparations. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said distribution network operators should be able to avoid bearing the brunt of the cost of storm damage through their business interruption insur- ance cover.

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