The government has been accused of “sugar coating” problems around the smart meter roll out and being too passive about tackling an emerging north/south divide in the rate of SMETS2 installations.
Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, has criticised the government’s approach to the management of the programme following the publication of her correspondence with energy and climate change minister Claire Perry.
The exchange of letters follows a hearing of the committee on 9 January into the findings of the National Audit Office’s progress report on the smart meter programme, which was published late last year.
In her letter to Reeves, Perry responds to the NAO’s concerns about problems with the deployment of the SMETS2 devices in the north of England by pointing to a Data Communications Company (DCC) action plan to accelerate the installation of the more sophisticated devices.
She says the government will continue to monitor SMETS2 deployment across the region in the coming months
Perry also defends the government’s decision not to include the marketing costs incurred by suppliers in the cost benefit analysis of the programme, arguing it would “not be appropriate”.
She justifies the existence of national marketing campaign run by Smart Energy GB, which has been the subject of complaints to the advertising industry’s regulator, on the basis that 97 per cent of people are now aware of smart meters.
And she writes that the department is continuing to review the installation costs and energy savings being achieved by consumers after they have had a smart meter fitted.
Commenting on Perry’s response, Reeves said: “The smart meter rollout has been beset by problems and delays. The 2020 target will not be met and, as costs rise, it is the household customer who will eventually pick up the bill.
“Yet, from our evidence hearing and the subsequent ministerial correspondence, the government’s tendency is to sugar-coat and pretend that everything will turn out alright in the end.”
“The government needs to tackle these problems, get a greater grip on costs, and be much more active in holding energy suppliers and the DCC to account for delivering this programme and within budget,” she added.
“Customers in the north are currently paying for smart meters through their bills but with little hope of having one installed in their homes compared to customers in the south. The Government are too passive in ensuring that the DCC and energy suppliers up their game and tackle this north/south divide.
“The government and Ofgem need to take a far tougher approach to ensuring that energy suppliers stick to their obligations and provide customers with advice on how to conserve energy, when they have a smart meter installed”.
Reeves pledged that the BEIS Committee will continue to monitor the costs, timescales, and the operability of the smart meter roll out.