The taxpayer faces a £4bn bill if a "big six" energy company goes under

5 questions answered.

Under newly proposed plans by Ed Davey the tax payer could foot the bill if one of the big six energy companies goes bust. We answer five questions on the proposed contingency plans.

What is Ed Davey proposing?

Energy Secretary Ed Davey is proposing to intervene quickly should one of the big six companies - EDF of France, E.ON and npower of Germany and Scottish Power, owned by Iberdrola of Spain, Centrica and Scottish & Southern Electric – go bust.

The "worst case scenario" plans, outlined in an Energy Department consultation paper open for comments until March 15, could result in household bills rising by between £7 and £32 a year on average over the period, equivalent to a maximum contribution of £4bn on the basis of 25.5m households in the UK, according to The Telegraph.

The provisions would enable the Government to intervene and continue to fund any company about to go bust and control the cost passed onto the consumer and maintain market sustainability. The rest of the industry would be expected to maintain supplies should this happen.

What is the likely-hood one of the big six companies could going bust?

It is not thought to be very likely that one of these companies would go bust any time soon and their commitment to the UK is not being questioned. It is thought the government is brining in these extra precautions because it does not want to have a repeat of the banking fiasco in the energy sector.

Does the government not already have provisions in place?

It does in the form of the 2011 2011 Energy Act which has already introduced a special administration regime to provide protection for the National Grid and the electricity and gas distribution networks it operates, as well as for the rail and water industries. However, Davey feels these provisions are not robust enough to cope with the mayhem that would ensue in the market if one of the big energy providers went bust.

What has the Department of Energy said?

An Energy Department official told The Telegraph: “It is extremely unlikely that any of the large energy suppliers in the UK would become insolvent. None the less, the Government believes that it is prudent to have in place a framework that will ensure the continued operation of a major supplier until its customers can be transferred to other partners.”

What do the energy companies think about these new provisions?

EDF has said it is broadly supportive of the proposals, while others are yet to comment

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.