The Conservative Party conference is underway – the last of the season – but what does our government think about energy tariffs, energy suppliers and renewables? We spoke to Greg Barker to find out.
The cost of energy is UK consumers’ number-one financial concern, and prices are set to increase again this winter. What action can the government take to stop a new wave of people falling into fuel poverty?
The most effective thing people can do is to make sure their home is properly insulated, after all, the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use. That’s why the coalition is introducing the Green Deal. Developed by the Conservatives in opposition, it is the biggest home improvement scheme since the second world war. It will improve value and save people money.
Consumers are confused about which tariff, let alone which supplier, offers them the best deal. Suppliers claim simplification of the pricing system will stifle innovation and competition. What’s your stance on reducing tariff complexity and improving comparability?
Tariffs need to be clearer and people need to know what they’re paying for. Ofgem is doing a lot of work in this area, and as a government we are strongly encouraging the regulator to use its powers to tackle barriers to competition. The Ofgem proposals aimed at reducing tariff complexity and improving comparability should make it easier for consumers to navigate the market and find the best deal.
Do you have plans to take advantage of public subsidies, such as feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive, and generate your own electricity at home?
I undertook a lot of energy efficiency improvements in my last home and I am hoping to be one of the first to take up the Green Deal when it is launched next year. I’ll be looking at energy efficiency measures first, then microgeneration.
Do you believe energy companies when they say price rises are largely determined by factors beyond their control?
The uncomfortable truth is that Britain’s consumers are subject to the volatile nature of global fossil fuel prices. That’s why we’re pushing the big six suppliers to help their customers overhaul their draughty homes and understand the best tariffs on offer, and we’re backing new entrants to bring more competition to the market.
The UK electricity market has to change to make way for alternative forms of power like renewables and nuclear. Only radical reform will give us the best chance in the long run of keeping the lights on at a price that doesn’t wreck our economy over and over again.
Do you think that the practice of doorstop selling of energy products should be allowed to continue?
Responsible doorstep selling has proved to be a useful way of bringing the benefits of energy competition to the attention of consumers. It is important, however, to provide consumers with proper safeguards. Ofgem has already brought in rules that require any information used during the doorstep sales process to be complete, accurate and not misleading. It is for Ofgem to investigate any allegations of the rules being breached and to take any necessary action.
What next for the Green Deal?
We have to iron out the detail of how the scheme will work to make sure people can trust the products, the installers and the whole Green Deal experience. Strong consumer protection will be at the heart of the scheme. We’re hoping the first Green Deal will be available in the autumn next year.
Do you think the government is responding to our energy concerns in the right way? Is enough being done to improve the energy suppliers? Are you keen to take advantage of the Green deal?