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Power chiefs slammed over outages

A lit gas hob22/1/14

By Daniel Machin

Energy bosses have been accused of "neglect" and "complacency" as they defend their response to the Christmas storms that left thousands of homes without power.

More than 150,000 properties were cut off over the festive period as strong winds, torrential rain and flooding caused significant damage to networks across the UK, with some left without electricity for up to five days.

Chiefs from the distribution firms spoke of how "tried and tested" emergency plans were defeated by the severity of the storms, stretching them to their limits during the worse-than-forecast weather.

But energy committee chairman Tim Yeo lambasted the six-strong panel for failing to take the problems faced by those affected seriously enough.

Bosses openly criticised

"You have lacked any expression of real concern for your customers," he said.

"It's absolutely typical of a monopoly, particularly monopolies whose charges are not very visible to the customers who have to pay them."

The meeting represents the first occasion on which the profitable distribution companies that own the networks responsible for carrying electricity to homes across the country have been publicly grilled.

All of the bosses gave evidence to the panel but were openly criticised, especially for their refusal to apologise to customers for their apparent failings and instead putting the blame solely on mother nature's doorstep.

Speaking to the MPs, Mark Mathieson, managing director of SSE's electricity networks, insisted that clean-up operations were much quicker now than in the past.

'We haven't seen damage like this since the early 90s'

"It was just the impact of the event," he said. "Certainly we haven't seen damage like this in the south back from the early 90s and even back to the great storm of 1987.

"I think the one thing I would say, and I've been in this industry for 25 years, we as an industry clean these events up much quicker than we used to.

"But we also recognise the impact that has on customers."

Meanwhile, Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks, claimed the organisation knew that storms were coming but the wind speed was higher than it had expected.

"But notwithstanding that," he added, "we managed on the Monday when it hit to have all our workforce pretty much on deck and our estimation of the damage was pretty accurate."

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