Government says it ‘does not expect’ gas supply emergencies this winter ahead of talks with energy industry

·3-min read
Government says it ‘does not expect’ gas supply emergencies this winter ahead of talks with energy industry

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that the government “does not expect” that there will be gas “supply emergencies” in the colder months ahead of his talks with the energy industry.

The government is to hold urgent talks this weekend with representatives from the energy sector over wholesale gas prices hitting a record high.

Mr Kwarteng will talk with chief executives of gas producers, the National Grid, suppliers, and industry regulator Ofgem to discuss the extent of the impact of surging prices amid higher global demand for gas.

Ahead of the meeting, he tweeted: “Britain has a diverse range of gas supply sources, with sufficient capacity to more than meet demand.”

As well as an increase in prices expected in October, annual gas and electricity bills are also set to soar by up to £280 next year due to the 60 per cent increase in wholesale energy prices.

Dermot Nolan, a former Ofgem chief executive, said that he believes high energy prices will “be sustained for the next three to four months”.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It is very difficult to see what the government can do directly in this regard.”

Natural gas prices are at record highs as countries around the world begin to recover from the Covid pandemic.

High energy prices are also linked to maintenance issues at some gas sites, a fire in Kent knocking out a major electricity cable connected to France, low gas supply from Russia and Norway, outages at some nuclear stations, and lower levels of solar and wind power generation.

Low gas storage levels could contribute to prices of gas increasing even further, Alexei Miller, head of Russian supplier Gazprom, said on Friday.

At an online conference, Mr Miller said Europe’s gas in storage is currently 22.9 billion cubic metres below normal levels.

He added that “Europe will enter the autumn/winter period with shortages in underground storage.”

The day before his comments, the energy price hike led suppliers to withdraw their lowest fixed-rate offers.

Sky high gas prices have led to two small energy companies – Utility Point and People’s Energy – going bust after locking-in customers on fixed-rate tariffs that were no longer sustainable for the firms.

The price rises have been “incredibly rapid” as 18 months ago they were at their “lowest rates for 20 years,” according to Martin Lewis, founder of website MoneySavingExpert.

The cheapest deals cost 40 per cent more than a year ago and are still rising, according to his website.

The government was warned on Friday that many households are facing a triple-whammy of challenges in paying their energy bills this autumn and winter.

Charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Labour Party, and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau said that households on low incomes will struggle with the higher prices, the end of the coronavirus furlough scheme, and the end of the £20 increase to Universal Credit welfare payments that has been paid out during the pandemic.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “A basic duty of government is to ensure secure, affordable energy supplies for businesses and families.

“It is a fundamental failure of long-term government planning over the last decade that we are so exposed and vulnerable as a country and it is businesses and consumers that are paying the price.

“If we had been investing at sufficient scale in diverse, secure, zero carbon energy supplies and making energy efficiency a much bigger priority, we would not be in such a precarious position.

“Ministers must recognise the severity of the cost of living crisis now facing families as a result of rising energy prices and their unfair tax rise and cancel the cut to Universal Credit.

“They must also ensure security of supply and take the long-term action to put in place a much more robust, resilient and diverse energy infrastructure.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK benefits from having access to highly diverse sources of gas supply to ensure households, businesses and heavy industry get the energy they need at a fair price.

“We are monitoring this situation closely,” they added.

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