The Independent View: Final Demand – it’s time to end the power of the Big Six

News last week that the Big Six energy firms are raking in bumper profits while the nation struggles with soaring fuel bills was just the latest electric shock to hit cash-strapped families.

Ofgem’s revelation that energy firm profit margins have risen to £125 per customer per year, from £15 in June, will crank up pressure on the Government to act – and rightly so.

But if Ministers really want to get to grips with soaring fuel bills we must also tackle the root cause – our nation’s reliance on increasingly expensive gas, coal and oil and the failure of the Big Six to invest in an energy system we can all afford.

Today Friends of the Earth launches a new campaign – Final Demand – which is calling on Ministers to fix our broken energy system by cutting energy waste and investing in clean, home-grown sources of power such as the wind, the waves and the sun.

This is the only way to give consumers a better deal in the long run – and unless we take urgent action the situation will only get worse. New research by Friends of the Earth, released to launch our campaign, shows households in the UK could face extra costs of around £300 per year as the bill for using fossil fuels to generate electricity spirals ever higher.

If energy firms, including household names like British Gas and E.ON, forge ahead with plans to build new fossil fuel power plants and abandon plans for new renewable energy, the nation faces an annual bill of between £8 and £13 billion extra for our coal and gas by 2020 – with producers likely to pass the cost on to hard-pressed consumers and businesses.

Fast-tracking the move to a low-carbon energy system is surely a no-brainer. As well as providing a cheaper long-term alternative to fossil fuels, investing in green power and energy efficiency will create the new jobs and business opportunities the nation is crying out for. It will also reduce our dependency on frequently volatile energy supplies, as well as ensuring that Britain plays its part in tackling climate change.

But despite the need for twenty first century thinking, there are worrying signs that the minds of prominent coalition Ministers are firmly stuck in the last millennium.

During an extraordinary speech to the party faithful earlier this month, Chancellor George Osborne blamed rising fuel prices on investment in green energy – the very medicine the ailing economy needs to recover.

The fact the Chancellor can’t grasp the figures is worrying enough – but even more disturbing is the fact he now appears to be in league with those falsely blaming moves to free us from our costly fossil fuel habit.

This is the same Treasury attitude that led to a dramatic reduction in financial incentives for community-scale renewable schemes earlier this year. Rather than boosting community moves to create clean their own energy and loosen themselves from the clutches of the big energy companies, the Government has effectively killed-off schemes the length and breadth of the country and created a crisis of confidence for the UK’s nascent renewable energy industry.

It’s time for more enlightened voices in the coalition government – and especially Lib Dem MPs – to stand up to this nonsense by making it clear that investing in clean power and cutting energy waste is the only way to bring bills down in the long run.

Although we disagree with his new enthusiasm for nuclear, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has been saying much that is right about the need to get off the oil and gas fuel hook, but the backing he’s been given by many of his his Cabinet colleagues has been sadly lacking.

We must end the dominance of the dirty half dozen and break-up the cosy system which has led to surging profits, bumper executive pay-outs and a Government that’s bending over backwards to allow them to keep Britain addicted to fossil fuels.

The Government must hold a public inquiry into the power of the Big Six energy companies – ending their stranglehold over the UK’s energy system will be good for consumers, good for business and good for the planet. And it mustn’t further slash support for clean community energy schemes that offer a real alternative to the Big Six’s power.

To find out more about Friends of the Earth’s Final Demand campaign – and to sign our petition – go to


The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • Simon McGrath 17th Oct '11 - 8:25pm

    What an extraordainary piece. You assert on no basis at all that conventional energy costs will rise by £8-13bn by 2020 (which is odd as gas prices in the US are falling as shale gas comes on stream) and have then claim that renewable energy is cheaper. This is just insulting to LDV readers. There is no doubt at all the renewable energy is much more expensive than non reneweable. see this study for example by the (hardly likely to be biased in favour of non renewable source) the British Wind Energy Association which shows offshore wind at least 4 times as expensive as gas

    By all means argue for renewable sources on the basis of global warming: dont do so on the ludicrous grounds it is cheaper.

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Oct '11 - 8:09am

    On top of that, how do you price in the impact of energy use on the environment and notably on global warming? By that criteria then fossil fuels are very expensive

    And so is the “cheap” electricity of the past few decades. While some improvements can be made around the edges, the bottom line is that power bills have got to go up.

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