Policy & regulation

Latest updates and analysis on how government and regulators' decisions will impact the sector 

Editor's picks

After a year-long investigation, the Environmental Audit Committee's report into river health in England has urged regulators to take a firmer position on pollution incidents, saying Ofwat should consider limiting bonuses to water company executives for failing to tackle the problem. The committee’s chair Philip Dunne spoke to Utility Week about the report, which also called for licence conditions to be revised to require year-on-year reductions in pollution towards a target of zero serious incidents by 2030.
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Shadow secretary for climate change and net zero Ed Miliband has called for “root-and-branch reform” of energy regulation, saying failures over the last decade have left the UK more exposed to high energy costs than other countries in Western Europe. Speaking during a House of Commons debate on Labour’s motion to cut VAT on household energy bills, which was subsequently defeated, Miliband also accused the government of being “paralysed” in the face of a cost-of-living crisis.
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Government legislation to establish a new financing mechanism for nuclear power has been approved by MPs despite Labour warnings that safeguards should be created to ensure it does not become a “milch cow” for consumers. The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to back the legislation, which allows the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model for financing infrastructure to be used to nuclear projects.
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Featured

Peter Simpson reflects on the year just passed and looks ahead to 2022. The water sector is facing unprecedented challenges that Simpson says will take new levels of cooperation to meet. He says it must reach out and work with other sectors if it hopes to make real improvements around rivers, pollution and climate adaptation.
Opinion
Given its perceived role in unlocking the true potential of the UK’s energy system as it transitions to net zero, the conversation around the Future System Operator no longer centres on if, but when and how. Utility Week gauged the views of smart grid and system operation leads across the energy sector on the roles and responsibilities of the new body and how a functional FSO can be achieved as quickly as possible.
Analysis
After distribution network operators (DNOs) published their final RIIO ED2 business plans last month, Grid Edge Policy director and former Ofgem partner, Maxine Frerk, tries (and struggles) to draw some comparisons. Given their various inconsistencies and sheer size – amounting to ten of thousands of pages when including the supporting documents - Frerk asks: who are they expecting to read them?
Analysis

Latest in Policy & regulation

Energy customers who do not switch supplier should be protected from the costs of retailer failure, the head of the Fuel Bank Foundation has argued. Matthew Cole told Utility Week that customers who were denied the opportunity to benefit from switching should not be asked to pay for its failings.
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One of the backers of a controversial plan for a new interconnector between France and the UK has threatened legal action within weeks against Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision to block the project. Alexander Temerko, an ex-head of Russian oil company Yukos and director of Aquind since 2016, also threatened legal action against trade minister Penny Mordaunt, who has been one of the leaders of the campaign against the cable that would come ashore in Portsmouth in her capacity as a local MP.
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As the ongoing energy crisis leaves millions of people struggling to pay their bills, Utility Week speaks to outgoing Committee on Fuel Poverty chairman David Blakemore about his frustrations over the government’s failure to find replacements for the committee’s departing members and his concerns over the slow progress in getting the UK’s leaky homes up to standard.
Interviews
Northumbrian Water has been fined £240,000 after pleading guilty to two pollution incidents in 2017 when a brick from a manhole chamber became lodged in a pipe, causing a combined sewer to overflow. The company has subsequently taken steps to remedy its approach to manhole maintenance in agricultural areas.
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British Gas has been appointed as the Supplier of Last Resort (SoLR) for the 176,000 customers of Together Energy, the company has announced. The move marks the ninth time in a year that British Gas has become a SoLR, taking on around 700,000 customers in the last 12 months alone.
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Years of neglect around support for energy efficiency measures mean householders are likely to waste £1.5 billion in the next financial year, new research has claimed. The government has been urged to see the figure as a “wake-up call” and commit to genuine investment in helping people improve their homes.
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Support for delaying measures to tackle climate change is tantamount to denying that the problem exists, the chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said.
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Giving a green light to hydraulic fracturing in the UK would not help solve the current energy crisis, with the increase in domestic gas production taking decades to materialise, a panel of industry experts has argued. Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at University College London, said: “It’s hard to think of a dumber response to a short-term crisis than to take a measure that you know is incompatible with the long term, which seems to be the fracking proposition.”
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The national planning framework for energy projects should be reviewed every five years, government ministers have told MPs. Responding to questions from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee over the ten-year gap between the publication of the original National Policy Statement for the sector in 2011 and the draft update in September last year, energy and climate change minister Greg Hands said a decade is “too long” to wait between reviews for a “fast moving area” like energy.
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The rebel MP, who was expelled from the Conservative parliamentary party last week after backing a Labour motion to cut VAT from energy bills, has branded the prime minister's rationale for not doing so as “disingenuous.” Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, who is sitting as an independent after she had the Tory whip withdrawn, said scrapping VAT on energy is "the most obvious, quickest and easiest" way of helping those struggling with rising energy bills.
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The Energy Saving Trust has dispersed £3.9 million collected from energy companies in breach of Ofgem rules to 20 charities across the UK. Ofgem’s Energy Redress Scheme, which is administered by the trust, aims to support energy consumers in vulnerable situations, as well as aid the development of low-carbon products or services and help consumers to reduce their energy use and carbon emissions.
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Head of the Environment Agency James Bevan has said regulators need to “think differently, speak softly and carry a bigger stick,” working with operators to protect the environment and improve waterways but being “far firmer” if they fail to cooperate. He also called for “fewer, simpler and better” regulations to achieve environmental goals.
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