Power companies need to ‘up their game’ after Storm Arwen

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Power companies must “up their game” following a critical report on the response to Storm Arwen which left nearly a million homes without power, industry regulator Ofgem has said.

100mph winds uprooted 16 million trees and damaged power lines, cutting off power supplies from November 26 last year across northern England and Scotland.

The watchdog published the findings of a six-month review and said some customers had received ‘unacceptable service’, with some being cut off for more than a week, poor communication about when they would be reconnected and slow compensation payments.

Three network operators – Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and Electricity North West – have paid nearly £30m in compensation and agreed to pay a further £10.3m in ‘repair payments’ to the local communities.

While acknowledging that the engineers, backed by the army, worked very hard in difficult conditions, Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “It was unacceptable that almost 4,000 homes in parts of the England and Scotland have been off for more than a week, often without precise information. when power is restored.

And speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘The main message to all network companies is ‘your game’, prepare for winter.

“It’s a very difficult time for customers at the moment; it’s a market where everyone is going through a tough time.

“Every energy company that works in this country has to work on behalf of its customers, which means big changes for the networks.”



Fallen trees on the A84 via Doune, Stirling, following Storm Arwen in December

The Ofgem review found:

  • Some affected customers have been out of power for an unacceptable length of time, received poor communication from their network operator, and compensation payments have taken too long.
  • The plans in place to deal with the storm were not sufficient to deal with the extent of the damage.
  • Northern Powergrid did not contact vulnerable customers on its priority service register directly before Storm Arwen, which should have been carried out as part of its winter preparedness campaign.
  • The same company admitted that its call center performance was below the standards it should have been able to meet during a severe storm, which could violate its license.
  • Limited remote monitoring has prevented companies from understanding the scale and complexity of faults.
  • There was some correlation between the age of the utility poles and the severity of the damage they had sustained in the storm, although this requires further investigation.

Ofgem has recommended companies submit their winter plans to the regulator so they are sure they are ready. They should also test their websites and call centers to ensure adequate capacity during severe weather events.

Companies should also develop systems to expedite mass compensation payments.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: ‘This action plan will ensure better preparedness for future storms, enhance the security of our electricity system and protect families.’

David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, which represents energy network companies in the UK and Ireland, said the companies had planned improvements. “This is particularly important as severe weather events become more frequent.

“The six electricity distribution system operators have submitted these details in their business plans for the next five years and Ofgem is due to make its first decision in the coming weeks.”

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