Rising costs of GB smart meters programme come in for flak from Labour
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Opposition MPs have laid into the multi-billion pound scheme, warning of a lack of safeguards to protect consumers from inflated energy bills - but Tory minister insists "real prizes" will be reaped
Opposition MPs have attacked the multi-billion pound British smart meters roll-out for its rising costs and an apparent lack of safeguards surrounding the centralised Data Communications Company (DCC) hub to which the devices are meant to be connected.
Alan Whitehead, the shadow energy minister, today suggested that the DCC, which is intended to receive information on energy usage from smart meters installed in people’s homes, had been operating without sufficient safeguards designed to shield the scheme in the event of bankruptcy.
He said the DCC was “entirely dependent” on resources it receives from energy suppliers, adding that the programme could be affected if the supply of funds “for any reason dries up or is diluted”. This could mean costs being borne by consumers in the unlikely event of insolvency.
During a meeting of the Smart Meters Bill Committee in Parliament, Whitehead acknowledged the government was now attempting to put in place safeguards. But he said: “We are legislating this morning for an event that could occur to an organisation that has been in operation for several years already, without this legislation being on the statute books, and therefore one might ask oneself, well, what was happening in the meantime?
“Were we actually operating over a period of time where there was no protection for the smart meter roll-out programme from the possible bankruptcy of the administration that absolutely was essential to the running of the whole operation? That seems to me to be a considerable omission.”
His Labour colleague Steve McCabe warned that the scheme, which involves both gas and electricity smart meters, could “go pear-shaped” - and he warned that this could result in a net liability for households.
McCabe said the official cost-benefit analysis for the scheme had been “significantly revised downwards” and asked: “If this were a Treasury programme, I wonder if the minister [Energy Minister Richard Harrington] believes it would have been allowed to continue in its present form for this length of time with these escalating costs.”
He added: “We’re in a situation where the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office and the Energy and Climate Change Committee have all expressed doubts about the operation of the programme, the transparency of the programme and the escalating costs.”
E&T has previously reported on problems plaguing the smart meters programme, including staff shortages, weak mobile network signals and interoperability issues. Supporters insist smart meters will help households save money by using energy more efficiently, and will let consumers switch suppliers more easily.
On the issue of costs, Richard Harrington said: “They have gone up. I’m not going to pretend they haven’t.”
But he added: “We have to consider the net benefits as well as just the costs, and every single consumer who has a smart meter from day one is making savings on their bill, the experience shows. I do believe the real prizes are for the future, because the information it gives and the change in behavioural habits that happen surely make this worthwhile.”