Power firms blasted over ‘unacceptable’ Storm Arwen response that left homes without energy


Power firms are blasted by watchdog over ‘unacceptable’ Storm Arwen response that left homes without energy for more than a week

  • Winds of 100mph left homes in UK without power for up to 11 days in November
  • Following a review, regulator Ofgem criticised communication from power firms
  • Boss Jonathan Brearley said delays in repairs and payouts were ‘unacceptable’
  • Three firms have already paid nearly £30million in compensation to customers

Power firms were yesterday told to ‘up their game’ after their ‘unacceptable’ response to Storm Arwen last year.

Winds of 100mph left homes in northern England and Scotland without electricity for up to 11 days in November.

Following a review, regulator Ofgem criticised communication from power firms and delays in repairs and payouts.

Its boss Jonathan Brearley told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The main message to all the network companies is: Up your game, get ready for winter.

‘It was unacceptable that nearly 4,000 homes in parts of England and Scotland were off power for over a week.’

Fallen bricks on a car in Roker, Sunderland, after gusts of almost 100 miles per hour battered some areas of the UK during Storm Arwen

Fallen bricks on a car in Roker, Sunderland, after gusts of almost 100 miles per hour battered some areas of the UK during Storm Arwen

The Army were eventually drafted in to help distribute food, fuel and generators to homes in the north-east, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire a week after the storm hit on November 26.

Three firms – Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and Electricity North West – have already paid nearly £30million in compensation to customers and a further £10.3million in voluntary redress payments is due to be handed out to affected communities in coming months.

Sean Sexton, 58, was without power to his property in Alnwick, Northumberland, for 11 days.

He received £1,300 compensation from Northern Powergrid soon afterwards, but said his ‘main complaint’ was the ‘zero communication and false information’ about when the electricity would be restored.

He said: ‘We were ringing up daily to ask how long it would be off and they would say, “it should be back by midnight,” but I could see the snapped telegraph pole in the field from my window with no sign of any engineers, so we knew what they were telling us was blatantly not true.’

He added that rural communities ‘didn’t matter’ to energy firms, who ‘fobbed us off’ with compensation.

Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said delays in repairs and payouts were 'unacceptable'

Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said delays in repairs and payouts were ‘unacceptable’

Referring to rising energy bills, he added: ‘They’re taking our money and then just have no thought for us at all when there’s an issue.

‘It’s us that has to pay their wages, pays for their time, and to be treated with contempt is unacceptable.’

Mother-of-two Debbie Noble, 48, was without power to her 200-year-old farmhouse, in Rothbury, Northumberland, for five days.

‘For the amount of money these companies are charging now they should be giving a solid service,’ she said.

‘Bills are going up, we are all being squeezed. Being without power at home for five days was horrendous. They were completely unprepared and, as far as climate change goes, this will only get worse. These storms won’t be freak events, the power companies have got to improve.’

Mrs Noble, who runs the Turks Head pub in the town, reckoned the business lost at least £10,000. The pub was without electricity for three full Saturdays following the storm in the lead up to Christmas as power was turned back on, only to be lost again.

‘We haven’t had any compensation for that,’ she added.

Ofgem has recommended firms submit winter plans to the regulator so it can check they are prepared and won’t get caught out in the future.

They should also stress-test their websites and call centres to ensure adequate capacity during severe weather events and develop systems to speed up mass compensation payments, the regulator added.

The report also highlighted that as many as 75 per cent of telegraph poles on the electricity network are at least 40 years old and said more work was needed to assess if this was a factor.

A fallen tree in New York in North Tyneside after Storm Arwen wreaked havoc across much of the UK

A fallen tree in New York in North Tyneside after Storm Arwen wreaked havoc across much of the UK

Mr Sexton added: ‘There’s no investment in infrastructure. They should be checking poles when the weather is decent and identifying ones that need replacing, but none of that happens.’

He said engineers who turned up to repair the broken pole bringing power to his own property revealed they had been waiting 11 days because they had ‘run out of poles’.

‘When they eventually did get to us, on day 11, they connected us back to the grid within two hours,’ he added. ‘We couldn’t believe we had been waiting 11 days for a two hour job.’

Another homeowner Neil Russell accused Northern Powergrid of simply ‘patching up knackered poles’ and not having any proper maintenance regime.

Several poles bringing power to his Northumberland property were rotten or leaning over, he told the BBC.

‘You would hope that Ofgem would be going back to Northern Powergrid to say, ‘right what were your maintenance expenditure and survey regimes?’,’ he said.

‘You’d have a planned survey database, that would pick up on condition and then condition would drive replacement.’

North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones agreed the network needed investment because it was ‘clearly not resilient.’

‘The power was off in some communities a lot longer because the components that were being used were old and they couldn’t be sourced,’ he said.

David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, which represents the UK and Ireland’s energy networks businesses, said firms had submitted improved plans in preparation for this winter.

‘The six electricity distribution network operators have submitted these details in their business plans for the next five years and Ofgem is due to make its initial determination in the coming weeks,’ he added. 

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