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Industry News

UK Ends Residential Electric and Gas Price Controls

LCG, Nov. 26, 2001--Callum McCarthy, executive director of Britain's Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, this morning ended all price controls on sales of electricity and natural gas to households in the UK.

The Financial Times said the move represents a decisive step in the liberalization of Britain's energy markets, which began 15 years ago when the gas industry was privatized. Few people then expected that consumers would be able to move freely between suppliers, which would compete against other on price and service, the paper said.

Residential natural gas prices have dropped by 37 percent in those 15 years. Electricity prices have fallen by 28 percent since 1990, a year after the power industry was privatized.

Almost 33 per cent of household gas customers and about 30 per cent of electricity consumers have switched from their former suppliers since the markets became fully competitive in 1998 and 1999, the Financial Times noted.

Beginning today, all natural gas and electricity retailers, including the former government monopolies, will be free to raise or lower prices.

Ofgem says it still has plenty of power under competition and utilities legislation to take action against suppliers that behave uncompetitively or mis-sell products.

McCarthy said the British market is one of the most competitive in Europe, providing a model for utility privatization. "A liberalized and increasingly deregulated market for gas and electricity in Britain is working well. It has delivered large benefits to consumers in terms of quality, supply and price," he said.

"Since May 1999 every single household in Britain, and every industrial and commercial customer, has had complete choice as to which supplier provides its gas and electricity. All this has been achieved without any deterioration in customer standards," McCarthy crowed. "Interruptions to supply are even rarer today than they were a decade ago; our generating margin over peak demand stands at just under 30 per cent."

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