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Energy firms SSE and Npower renegotiate terms of merger

Energy firms SSE and Npower are renegotiating the terms of a merger of their UK retail operations, blaming the introduction of an energy price cap.

The merger, which has been cleared by the regulator, is set to create the UK’s second-biggest energy company.

Both firms said they still thought the merger had benefits, but that any final deal was likely to be delayed.

An energy bill price cap of £1,137 a year for “typical usage” is due to come into force in the new year.

It means suppliers will have to cut the price of their default tariffs to the level of the cap or below it.

Energy bills to be capped in new year

Watchdog clears SSE-Npower merger

Households to benefit from energy price cap

The government introduced legislation earlier this year to establish the price cap following concerns about how efficiently the energy market was working.

In September, SSE said the cap would lead to “significantly lower” profits than it had expected at the start of the financial year in its retail arm.

 

The energy firm said it had become apparent that the impact of some “recent market developments”, including the price cap, meant that the “commercial terms associated with the proposed combination will need to be reconsidered”.

As a result, SSE and Npower’s German owner Innogy were in talks “regarding potential changes” to the commercial terms of the deal, it added.

SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies said: “We continue to believe that creating a new, independent energy supplier has the potential to deliver real benefits for customers and the market as a whole, and that remains our objective.”

Talks will take place over several weeks, with an update on progress in mid-December.

‘Adverse developments’

The two companies were aiming to complete the merger – which would cut the “Big Six” energy firms down to five – in the first quarter of 2019.

However, SSE said it was now not likely to be done by then.

Innogy said in a statement that “adverse developments in the UK retail market and regulatory interventions such as the price cap have had a significant impact on the outlook for the combined retail company”.

It said the negotiations would include talks about “potential additional direct or indirect financial contributions by each party”.

Earlier this week, energy regulator, Ofgem said the cap would save 11 million customers an average of £76 a year on their gas and electricity bills.

Households in England, Scotland and Wales on default tariffs – such as standard variable tariffs – stand to benefit. Consumers in Northern Ireland have a separate energy regulator and already have a price cap.

More than half of all households in Britain are on default tariffs because they have never switched or have not done so recently.

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28,000 jobs at risk in north of England over low-carbon economy

As many as 28,000 jobs will be lost in the north of England in the next 12 years under the government’s drive towards a low-carbon economy, a thinktank has warned.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said in its report that the region could be at the heart of a “clean energy revolution” – with a potential for 46,000 new green jobs – but instead faced economic decline under current plans.

Luke Murphy, an associate director at IPPR and co-author of the report, said: “With nearly half of the UK’s renewable energy being produced in the north, it is clear that the region is ideally placed to deliver a green jobs revolution of 46,000 new jobs by 2030.”

Murphy described the move towards a low-carbon economy as an “urgent necessity” to limit the impact of global warning. He urged ministers to commit to a more ambitious decarbonisation policy “where communities are protected from decline” which he said must be at the heart of its industrial strategy.

The north of England produced 48% of the UK’s renewable electricity between 2005 and 2014, the report said, yet the region is also home to the largest number of coal and gas power stations in England.

The report, published on Monday, calls on the government to “learn from the mistakes of the past” and avoid a repeat of the catastrophic economic decline that followed the closure of coal, steel and shipbuilding industries across the north since the early 1980s.

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Fracking to start again despite earthquakes striking underneath Lancashire site

Fracking will start again despite it triggering earthquakes in Lancashire. Energy firm Cuadrilla started drilling for shale gas last week, for the first time in seven years that it has happened in the UK. The company called a halt due to the tremors, but says it will start again on Thursday. They had stopped after the latest – and biggest – tremor was detected on the grounds of their Preston New Road site, Lancashire.

The seismic event, measuring 0.48 on the Richter Scale, was described as a ‘tiny’ tremor by Cuadrilla and within operating expectations. Campaigners, who lost a High Court bid to stop fracking, have demanded the firm stop following the latest set of quakes.

A spokesman for Frack Free Lancashire said ‘Who knows what is happening under our feet? ‘This is the earth giving out a warning, as predicted by geologists following the previous failures of fracking in Lancashire. ‘The increased risk of larger magnitude quakes is serious. Cuadrilla must stop now, for all our sakes.’ In 2011, fracking was halted for seven years after experts said two Lancashire tremors – one registering 2.3 magnitude – were caused by shale gas test drilling.

The 0.4ML tremor on Tuesday was classed as an amber event as part of the traffic light system in place for monitoring seismic events during operations. Cuadrilla said it was required to reduce the rate at which it was pumping fracturing fluid once the seismic event had been detected, but it had ‘adopted extra caution’ and had stopped pumping for the day in response. Work got under way again on Wednesday morning, however fracking had already stopped before the second tremor was detected. Caudrilla said earlier this month it would spend at least three months fracking two horizontal wells, and then it would test to see if the gas flow was commercially viable. Anti-fracking campaigners tried to stop the process with an attempted injunction but failed in their bid.

Drilling began on Tuesday and the first three tremors happened on Thursday, according to the British Geological Survey. On October 18th, the seismic events were small, measuring -0.2, 0.8 and -0.3 respectively. On Friday, the quakes went into positive territory, which is considered an Amber event under a ‘Traffic Light System’ of safety monitoring. Friday afternoon saw 0.3, followed by a 0 quake on October 20th and yesterday’s at 0.4.

‘But it was classed as an amber event as part of the Traffic Light System (TLS) in place for monitoring operational activity. ‘As such we are required to reduce the rate we are pumping fracturing fluid once it has been detected. ‘In fact we have adopted extra caution and have stopped pumping for the day. ‘Seismicity will, as always, continue to be monitored closely around the clock by ourselves and others and we plan to continue hydraulic fracturing again in the morning.

‘Local residents should be reassured that the monitoring systems in place are working as they should. ‘These are tiny seismic events being detected by our monitors as we fracture the shale rock and are not capable of being felt much less cause damage or harm.’

Fracking, or Hydraulic Fracturing, involves pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals into unstable rock to release combustible gas. Drilling for shale gas is still at an exploratory phase. However, reserves of shale gas have been identified across large swathes of the UK, particularly in northern England. More than 100 licences have been awarded by the government, allowing firms to pursue a range of oil and gas exploration activities in certain areas. A government-appointed panel said there could be more tremors as a result of fracking, but they would be too small to do structural damage above ground.

It recommended greater monitoring with a ‘traffic light’ regime, with tremors of 0.5 or above triggering a ‘red light’ and an immediate halt. The Government has been pro-fracking despite concerns over climate change. When Theresa May came to power, she announced householders living near shale wells would enjoy a ‘frackpot’ payout of up to £10,000 each.

However the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change launched a new report only two weeks ago bringing forward the dangerous limits of climate change and calling on world leaders to take immediate action to bring global warming under control by 2040. The extensive list of measures required includes a diverse energy mix of 85 per cent renewables and practically no coal, oil or gas. Pro-fracking lobby group ‘Lancashire For Shale’ said: ‘A 0.4 magnitude event like this is so small it is only possible to detect it using very sensitive instruments like those deployed locally by Cuadrilla and the British Geological Survey. ‘The very open manner in which this event has been reported, and Cuadrilla’s reaction to it, demonstrates just how robust the new controls are and that the Traffic Light System is working effectively.’

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‘Fog of Brexit has had massive bearing on energy bills’ – supplier

Consumers face further price increases if the pound falls further, says Pure Planet

 

Brexit has had a “massive bearing” on UK energy bills and consumers face further price rises if the pound falls further, according to a BP-backed energy startup.

Steven Day, a co-founder of Pure Planet, an app-based renewable energy supplier, warned that the UK’s departure from the EU was the biggest political issue facing the energy sector at the moment.

“The very short-term stuff is the fog of Brexit. That is causing a major problem in terms of what costs consumers will face in 2019. If the pound gets devalued further, energy prices will go up again. That is unequivocal,” he said.

The UK only imports a small amount of electricity, around 6% of supplies, but imports more than half its gas, meaning the country pays more for the fuel when sterling weakens. The pound has repeatedly fallen at signs that a no-deal Brexit is more likely.

Day, a former telecoms executive, said there was “no doubt” the pound’s devaluation was a key factor behind a series of price increases that have hit millions of households this year, as suppliers blamed rising wholesale prices.

Further increases in wholesale costs were likely, he said, which would prove a challenge for the government’s price cap that takes effect at the end of the year.

The co-founder said the market was very different from when he launched his green energy supplier a year ago because the cost of energy was now a “big barrier” for anyone considering joining the market’s 60-plus suppliers.

“The days of the independent sector expanding are over, at least temporarily, while the market consolidates a little bit,” he said.

Day said he was concerned that an exemption in the price cap, which allows green tariffs to breach the limit, could hold back the UK’s switch to renewables.

It is not yet clear if any firms will apply for the exemption but if they did it could affect the perception of green energy, he suggested. “It reinforces the idea that green has to be more expensive … and that will slow down the shift to green energy.”

BP holds a 24% stake in Pure Planet, which is on track to hit more than 75,000 customers by the end of the year.

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UK energy supplier Yu Group shares plunge 80 per cent as it warns profits will vanish on bad debt and accounting concerns

Shares in gas and electricity provider Yu Group collapsed today, plunging by as much as 80 per cent in early morning trading after a profit warning.

 

The energy supplier to the UK’s corporate sector told investors that profits would fall by £10m, leading to a loss for this financial year.

Shares fell from 580p at yesterday’s close to 117p in early morning trading.

The company found several areas of “significant concern” that will hit its bottom line, including problems in how it recognises historic accrued income, higher levels of trade debt that cannot be paid back to Yu Group, and a squeeze in market conditions.

Chief executive Bobby Kalar said: “As founder and majority shareholder, nobody is more disappointed in this development than me.

“Our booked revenue from new sales remains strong and contracted revenue for 2019 is already £67m as at the end of September 2018. We have improved internal controls around working capital management and the board is absolutely focused on restoring the profitability of the business.”

Yu predicted it would not return to profitability until the end of 2019, and even then warned that its profit margin would be lower than previous expectations.

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Energy bills jump 21% in five months leaving millions facing fuel poverty this winter

The average price of the cheapest 30 energy tariffs has jumped by more than a fifth in just five months, new analysis has found.

After price hikes from all of the major suppliers, the average yearly cost of the best deals is now £1,042, having jumped £178 since May.

This sharp rise in prices is likely to leave millions unable to properly heat their homes this winter, despite the government’s proposed price cap designed to protect consumers from rip-off tariffs. The long-awaited cap is now not due to come into force until December.

At the start of April, suppliers were offering 89 tariffs costing under £1,000 per year for the average household. That figure has plummeted to just four, none of which are fixed-price deals.

According to MoneySuperMarket, the cheapest option is now a variable priced “100 per cent Green” tariff from Pure Planet, costing £921 a year.

The cheapest Big Six tariff is a one-year fixed deal from British Gas (‘Energy Plus Boiler Cover October 2019’) at £1,020, £204 cheaper than the Big Six average standard variable tariff.

British Gas, EOn, Scottish Power and EDF, have raised prices twice this year, blaming rising wholesale energy costs.

The government’s energy price cap for people on poor-value variable tariffs is due to come into force in December, “subject to the necessary consultations,” energy regulator Ofgem said last month.

 

Ofgem also raised its safeguard cap on variable tariffs by £47 per year to £1,136 for those who prepay for their fuel.

The cap is designed to protect five million households from being overcharged, and was extended to a further one million homes earlier this year.

Millions of people face not being able to heat their homes this winter or going without other essentials to keep warm.

More than one in 10 households in England – two-and-a-half million families – were living in fuel poverty, a government report said in June before the latest round of price rises.

Separate research found that more than 3,000 people are “needlessly” dying each year in the UK because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes.

The UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, a study by National Energy Action and environmental charity E3G found.

Stephen Murray, energy expert at MoneySuperMarket said energy prices were “extremely volatile” at present.

“While prices are rising and getting closer to the level of the price cap (£1,136), it’s worth noting the latter will not stay at the same level. It will almost definitely rise early next year and customers who sit tight now thinking they will be protected will be sorely disappointed.

“The price cap is creating an artificial market, which will still have to reflect market conditions at its next update. That means its level could rise anywhere from £100 to £150.”

 

 

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Scottish Power becomes first major UK energy company to generate all electricity from wind

Scottish Power has become the first major UK energy firm to completely drop fossil fuels in favour of wind power, after selling off its remaining gas and hydro stations to Drax for £702m.

While customers will still get some electricity from non-green sources that the company has purchased from other operators, the firm indicated it would now be freed up to invest more in UK renewable energy sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides and waves.

It plans to invest £5.2bn over the next four years to more than double its renewable capacity.

Calling it a “pivotal shift”, the company’s chief executive Keith Anderson said: “We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy. We have closed coal, sold gas and built enough wind to power 1.2 million homes.”

The firm is the first of the “big six” energy suppliers, which also includes British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower and SSE, to make such a switch.

The government has already decreed that coal power should be phased out by 2025.

Some smaller energy suppliers like Ecotricity and Good Energy already offer totally renewable tariffs, with their power generated from wind turbines, solar panels and hydro sources.

Scottish Power has already closed all of its coal plants and has 2,700MW of wind power projects operating or in the pipeline.

The firm’s Spanish parent company Iberdrola is aiming to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2007. Its goal is to be completely carbon neutral by 2050.

The move also marks a further step away from coal-burning stations for Drax, which has already converted four of its six stations to burn wood pellets instead.

Although the company has been criticised for the level of air pollution coming from these sources, the firm has insisted that pollution levels were “well within” legal limits.

Its continued use of comparatively clean power sources such as gas and biomass would allow it to fill in any gaps left when solar and wind production is too low to completely supply the UK with electricity, the company said.

After the sale was announced, the company’s chief executive Will Gardiner said it was “a critical time in the UK power sector”.

He added: “As the system transitions towards renewable technologies, the demand for flexible, secure energy sources is set to grow.”

Kate Blagojevic, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said the move by Scottish Power was part of a much larger trend.

“Big utilities across Europe have been shedding their dirty fossil fuel infrastructure because it makes economic and environmental sense,” she said. “This move by Scottish Power shows that the same maths adds up in the UK too. Climate science could not be clearer that renewables are the future for powering our world.

“We need the government to give renewable energy industry its full backing rather than propping up the fossil fuel and nuclear companies.”

A renewed focus has been placed on renewable energy since a major United Nations reportannounced that major changes would be needed across the world to limit the worst effects of climate change. This included a recommendation of a 45 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030.

Britain’s government asked its climate advisers to prepare recommendations for the changes needed across the nation’s energy sector, as well as industry, transport, buildings and lifestyles, to meet the strict limits outlined in the report.

Fracking is too high a price to pay for cheap energy

Fracking is the wrong answer to a good question: how can the world find the energy supplies to sustain economic growth and living standards?

It is perfectly plain that the global fracking boom – centred on North America – has dramatically altered the balance of power in fossil fuels. It has pushed the price of a barrel of oil lower, and lower in any case than it would otherwise be, such is the quantity of the oil and gas now being produced. The United States has regained its status as an energy superpower. And yet we know where all of that is heading – more carbon dioxide emissions, more global warming, another steps towards global armageddon.

The decision by High Court judges to allow fracking in Lancashire to go ahead, quashing an appeal against it by anxious residents, has a particular unfortunate timing. It comes, after all, only days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent warning about the scale and pace of climate change, and how life on earth will be effectively extinguished over the course of the next century or so if global temperatures are allowed to creep even higher than they are trending. The stakes, in other words, could hardly be higher, though the public seems increasingly desensitised to the warnings.

In the case of fracking, the effects on water supplies, for example, and localised pollution are additional unwanted effects of this new technology. The people of Lancashire will not be the last to discover that energy security can carry a high price for some.

 

Yet the opponents of fracking have to answer the question as to where a reliable and economical source of energy can be discovered. Fortunately, the answers are readily available. Renewables – wind, solar and wave – are already making their contribution to our energy supplies, but remain too small a sector. The remaining issues are how to make them compete on price with hydrocarbons and, connected to that, how energy produced during peaks can be stored so as to match peak demand, and vice versa. The development of battery technologies has been impressive since lithium-ion technology emerged three decades ago, and it has much further potential. This would enable large amounts of electricity to be stored, both to meet household demand, for example, to feed fast chargers for cars without the need to bolster the capacity of the national grid.

As to cost, it is doubtful that, on their own terms, renewables will be cheaper than fossil fuels for a long time – but that is to neglect the greatest cost of all from burning carbon – the damage to the planet, which is beyond price. The failure of governments to fix this market failure adequately – whereby the damage to the planet is not reflected in the cost of burning carbon fuels is perhaps the biggest single factor in the degradation of our planet.

There are micro solutions too. When electric cars become ready to travel, say, 200 miles in winter between charges, we may reach appoint where they can be integrated with homes, so that “spare” electricity in them can be pumped back into he home or even sold to the National Grid, with a windmill and solar panels on the roof generating enough for most household needs. That may soon become a reality in the coming decades.

Energy supplies need to be resilient and economical. A variety of sources – carbon, nuclear, renewables – help to ensure security of supply. Energy generated and recycled in Britain, for example, will mean more energy independence, reduce the political risks associated with imports from the Middle East, and cut the trade deficit. There are many answers to the energy problem, then, and fracking need not be one of them.

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Profits slide at big six energy firms as 1.4m customers switch

Britain’s biggest energy firms saw their profits dive by 10% last year as more than 1 million customers left them for smaller challenger companies.

Profits at the so-called big six firms fell from £1bn to £900m in the face of increasingly tough competition, and their market share dropped to a record low of three-quarters.

But figures published by the energy regulator, Ofgem, revealed huge differences in the companies’ profitability.

The market leader, British Gas, maintained a healthy margin of 8% as an ongoing cost-cutting drive offset the loss of hundreds of thousands of customers.

SSE still made a 7% margin, E.ON was down to 5% and ScottishPower’s margin fell to 0.5%. EDF made a profit for the first time since 2009, while Npower narrowed its continuing losses. The merger of SSE and Npower was given the green light this week by competition authorities.

In total, 1.4 million people left the big six between June 2017 and June 2018, according to Ofgem’s annual state of the market report.

Newer entrants have grown their market share to 25% of gas supplies and 24% for electricity, but so far none have managed to break through to the scale of the big six.

Householders now have 73 energy suppliers to choose from, and switching rates are at a record high.

The emergence of a new breed of middleman companies, who switch customers automatically, was putting additional competitive pressure on firms, Ofgem said.

But the report found a significant chunk of people are still not shopping around.

One-third of consumers said they have never switched, and 27% said they had only switched once, in figures almost identical to a year ago.

And while the number of people on poor value default tariffs has continued to fall, 54% are still on such standard variable tariffs.

The government said the fact so many households were still paying over the odds showed why it was introducing a price cap at the end of the year.

“Many customers, including the elderly and those on low incomes, are still paying too much,” said Claire Perry, the energy minister.

But the industry warned the cap, which will apply to 11m households, would be a significant challenge for many suppliers.

 

Lawrence Slade, the chief executive of Energy UK, said: “It will be important to ensure it does not undermine the positive change within the energy sector and have any unintended consequences for customers.”

There are signs in the report that the cap could turn back the clock on switching rates.

Ofgem cited evidence that switching for the 5m vulnerable households protected by an existing cap had slowed down between March 2017 and March 2018. More than 90% of those households were found to be paying a tariff either at the level of the cap, or close to it.

Dermot Nolan, the chief executive of Ofgem, said: “We have witnessed many positive developments in energy over the last year, but the market is still not delivering good outcomes for all, especially the vulnerable.”

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Npower and SSE merger given final clearance by competition watchdog

Two of the UK’s Big Six energy suppliers have been given the all clear to merge their retail businesses by the competition watchdog.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said consumers would still have “plenty of choice” on standard variable tariffs (SVTs) after Npower and SSE’s proposed tie-up.

 

MPs and consumer groups have criticised big gas and electric firms for profiting from loyal customers by switching them to expensive SVTs when their initial tariff ends.

But the CMA said SSE and Npower are “not close rivals” on the tariffs, which had been an area of particular concern for the regulator.

The Big Six suppliers, which also includes British Gas, E.On, Scottish Power and EDF, have already lost hundreds of thousands of customers to newer competitors and are predicted to shed another 2.4 million in 2018, according to industry trade body Energy UK.

Price comparison site uSwitch said in August that it had seen a 40 per cent rise in customers changing utility suppliers this year suggesting that households have become more savvy.

Anne Lambert, chair of the CMA inquiry group, said: “With many energy companies out there, people switching away from expensive standard variable tariffs will still have plenty of choice when they shop around after this merger.

“But we know that the energy market still isn’t working well for many people who don’t switch, so we looked carefully at how the merger would affect SVT prices.

“Following a thorough investigation and consultation, we are confident that SSE and Npower are not close rivals for these customers and so the deal will not change how they set SVT prices.”

Rik Smith, an energy expert at uSwitch, said the merger would affect up to 9 million households.

He added: “With regulatory intervention due to be in place by the end of the year, how will the new supplier engage those customers who are still on poor value standard variable tariffs and get them onto better deals?”

The merger announcement comes after the government has pledged to help customers harmed by a lack of competition in the energy market.

Prices have soared this year, with the average dual-fuel energy bill now £1,138 a year, after the main suppliers all hiked tariffs.