Scotland's largest utility trade union
April 2003 Briefing
Energy White Paper
The UK government has published their long awaited
white paper on energy policy Our Energy Future - creating a
low carbon economy.
The government claims to be putting climate change
at the heart of its energy strategy by reducing carbon emissions
by 60% by 2050. This will be achieved by strengthening the contribution
of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
The white paper leaves the door open for new
nuclear power stations recognising that these challenging targets
may not be capable of being met without nuclear. The future for
coal electricity generation lies with clean coal technologies.
Most of the goals set out in the white paper
will be supported by UNISON. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions,
securing reliable energy supplies and ensuring that every home
is adequately heated are all worthwhile objectives. The emphasis
on maintaining competitive energy markets in the UK and beyond,
ignores the accumulating experience that competition is failing
to deliver most of the white paper goals.
UNISON Scotland believes that a Scottish energy
strategy should be based on a planned market for energy combined
with security of supply as well as social, employment and environmental
objectives. Our contribution to the Energy Review consultation,
Energy Strategy can be viewed at our web site.
Energy Home top
The UK government has published a draft bill
to introduce new UK electricity trading arrangements known as
British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements (BETTA).
This extends the English system known as NETA to Scotland.
UNISON Scotland has produced a new briefing on
the draft bill (see website). In that briefing we express considerable
scepticism over the claims made for BETTA. We already have a competitive
market in Scotland linked to NETA that means wholesale prices
are essentially the same both sides of the border. The only attraction
of BETTA is the prospect of encouraging renewable generation in
Scotland by sharing the transmission costs across the UK. However,
Ofgem following their competition objectives are already proposing
location pricing that will undermine this potential advantage.
Smaller generators have suffered under NETA and
larger generators are mothballing capacity or collapsing as in
the case of British Energy. The very modest savings claimed for
customers have to be weighed against the chaos caused by the current
regulatory arrangements. UNISON members deal with thousands of
calls every day from confused customers who are bombarded with
a bewildering array of marketing ploys and often end up unsure
who is providing their energy and without a bill for months. Others
are the victim of high pressure sales tactics and blatant mis-selling.
BETTA is largely irrelevant to the real problems
facing the electricity generation industry in Scotland. The recent
Commons Trade & Industry Committee report on the draft bill
also questioned the value of BETTA.
Energy Home top
The Energy White Paper's support for renewable
energy, is good news for ScottishPower and Scottish & Southern
who are well placed to exploit this growth. S&S already produces
more than 9% from its hydro-electric works and ScottishPower investing
£500m on wind farms aiming to have 20% of its generation
from renewables by 2010. SSE have also formed a joint venture
company with the Wier Group to boost technology for wave and tidal
Ofgem have announced that work will begin on
planning how Scotland's electricity networks are expanded to support
the increase in renewable generation outlined in the Energy White
Paper ahead of the 2005 price review.
Scottish Executive ministers have adopted a 40%
target for Scottish energy requirements to be generated from a
mix of renewable sources by 2020. Cynics have pointed out that
a political target for 2020 is less than credible and few people
in the industry believe it is achievable. UNISON Scotland believes
the target could result in Scotland failing to support the necessary
baseload generation. In particular, the need for government support
for clean coal technologies to maintain Longannet and Cockenzie
power stations. The UNISON
Scotland consultation response can be viewed on our website.
Energy Home top
ScottishPower produced good third quarter
results. Earnings per share up 8% based on decent customer retention
in the UK, £20m of cost savings and continuing solid performance
in the US.
ScottishPower's Cockenzie power station removed
a staggering 650 tons of mussels from culverts at the station
in a recent clear out.
Speculation continues that Scottish &
Southern are the front runners to acquire Midlands Electricity.
This would add 2.3m customers and bring critical mass in a rapidly
consolidating UK power market.
Storm damage to electricity distribution in England
has brought about a much needed rethink over the alleged efficiency
of some companies trumpeted by Ofgem as benchmarks for the industry.
Energy minister Brian Wilson has called on Ofgem to treat Scottish
& Southern as a benchmark in future. It remains to be seen
if this is reflected in the next round of distribution price controls.
British Energy has secured a deal with
certain of its creditors to keep the company out of administration.
Fuel cost savings and the sale of its Canadian subsidiary has
helped the company's financial position. The government has taken
legislative powers to effectively renationalise the company if
required, although other power producers are still threatening
action in the European courts.
British Energy's Hunterston plant hit the news
in January when a report on an emergency exercise highlighted
a catalogue of problems. Proposals have been drawn up to power
Torness with plutonium from Sellafield as an alternative to storage.
This has sparked fears that terrorists could extract the plutonium
to make a primitive nuclear explosive. BNFL & BE have emphasised
that this type of fuel is only an option at this stage.
Centrica's (Scottish Gas) multi-utility
strategy has come under fire from city analysts who have urged
the company to "refocus on the core fundamentals". A recent survey
confirmed that 75% of consumers would be prepared to buy multiple
household services from one company - but not an energy company.
This says much about the damage energy competition has caused
to customer confidence.
Ofgem are consulting on changes to the regulation
of gas distribution. This would see the introduction of
separate price controls, which could lead to variations in price
between different regions. This is widely seen as the first stage
in the sell off of regional gas distribution and could have price
consequences for customers in rural areas.
Energy Home top
Energywatch are to focus on unreliable
billing, dishonest sales tactics and erroneous transfers over
the next twelve months. 50% of complaints relate to billing problems.
The consumer watchdog has also produced new guidelines of good
practice to help customers running up debts. The energy companies
have been asked to implement debt prevention programmes that will
be monitored and formally evaluated in September 2004. UNISON
Scotland's response to the Energywatch 2003-04 work programme
can be viewed on our website.
The Scottish Parliament have recently debated
utilities mis-selling. A range of MSPs lined up to support a motion
from Duncan McNeil MSP calling for stronger protection for customers.
The DTI have announced a series of safeguards,
which they hope will strengthen corporate governance and
avoid an Enron-type corporate scandal in the UK. The role of non-executives
are to be strengthened and new accountancy rules including independent
monitoring. Whilst these changes have been broadly welcomed by
the utility industry, many commentators feel that the proposals
are too cosy, particularly when compared with the measures adopted
in the USA.
Energy Home top
British Energy has a new Chief Executive. He
is Mike Alexander, currently Chief Operating Officer with Centrica.
Norman Askew the Chief Executive of BNFL is to
leave this summer. BNFL runs the Chapelcross nuclear power station
and he is reported to be frustrated over the lack of government
commitment to a new-build nuclear programme.
Retirement should not be too much of a struggle
for Scottish & Southern's former CEO Jim Forbes. He is to
receive an expected pension of £398,934 per annum.
Energy Home top
Water Round Up
Water charges in the west and east of Scotland
will rise by 9.9% in 2003-4. Prices in the north of Scotland will
be frozen as a move towards harmonisation of charges. For a Band
D house this means an increase of 56p per week. The increase is
part of the strategic review of charges approved last year to
finance a massive investment programme to modernise Scotland's
water and sewage systems. Scottish Executive spending plans for
water show a major cut from £285m in 2002-3 to £207m
Customer water debt in Scotland has grown to
£284m an increase of 9% in the last six months. This has
resulted in a call for water charges to be collected separately
from the Council tax.
The Water Industry Commissioner for Scotland
has appointed a panel of seven expert advisers to assist in regulating
the industry in Scotland. With the odd exception they are the
usual business led appointments and others imbued with the regulator's
The WIC recently produced a highly critical report
claiming that £750m had been wasted since 1996 by the former
water authorities in the management of assets. This includes £296m
of PFI schemes hit by delays and poor management which had brought
about higher operating costs.
The overall figure (based on north/south comparisons)
has been greeted with considerable scepticism by industry sources.
The PFI losses are well known and this method of procurement has
effectively been abandoned. The report also gives insufficient
recognition to the fact that investment in England and Wales has
totalled some £50bn over the last 13 years. Scotland has
only spent around £1bn since 1986.
Scottish Water has appointed Stirling Water and
United Utilities as preferred bidders to split £1.8bn worth
of water and sewage treatment upgrades over the next four years.
Whilst this form of broader PPP appears to be an improvement on
the failed PFI schemes, the workforce reaction has been sceptical
until further details of the arrangement are properly consulted
The WIC produced another highly critical report
of Scottish Water's handling of last summer's cryptosporidium
scare in Glasgow. Poor advice, a lack of detailed records and
insufficient capacity to notify customers were the main failings.
As the WIC has constantly proposed massive cuts in staff, his
criticism on these points is somewhat less than credible.
The NIMBY objections to a new treatment plant
at Mugdock have now been overcome and the new plant will make
a significant contribution to water safety in Glasgow.
Energy Home top
Fuel Poverty Advice
UNISON Scotland supported by UNISON Energy and
UNISON Welfare has published a welfare workers energy advice booklet.
Energy bills are often the last straw for members in financial
difficulties and UNISON hopes this booklet will help our Branch
Welfare Officers and others in assisting members.
The booklet is also part of UNISON's contribution
towards the Keeping Scotland Warm campaign that seeks the
permanent eradication of fuel poverty. Recent activities have
included fringe meetings at the SNP, Liberal and Scottish Labour
Energy Home top