storm arwen power lines

Energy firms provided ‘unacceptable service’ during Storm Arwen, Ofgem finds

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Energy firms provided “an unacceptable service” to some customers during Storm Arwen last year which saw nearly one million homes in Britain lose power, regulator Ofgem has said.

It found that while companies worked hard “in challenging circumstances” to get customers reconnected, nearly 4,000 homes had to cope without power in appalling weather conditions for over a week.

The six-month review focused on whether the power outages could have been prevented and whether power was restored quickly enough.

While companies initiated their emergency plans before the storm hit, the plans were not deemed “sufficient to deal with the scale of damage” that resulted from Storm Arwen.

Northern Powergrid, whose customers were affected by the storm, failed to directly contact vulnerable customers enrolled on its Priority Services Register (PSR) prior to Storm Arwen, a process which should have been carried out as part of its planned winter preparedness campaign.

Limited remote monitoring on the lower voltage networks also hindered energy firms from understanding the full scale and complexity of faults, impacting the number of resources they initially deployed to undertake repairs, restore power and support customers.

Most network faults during Storm Arwen were caused by strong winds or trees and branches falling onto power lines, although Ofgem also found some correlation between poles that were damaged and their age.

Three firms, Northern Powergrid, Electricity North West and SSEN, paid nearly £30m in direct compensation to affected customers after the storms.

They also agreed to pay a further £10.3m in voluntary redress payments to the affected communities through contributions to community funds and in donations to vulnerability support charities.

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “Distribution network companies faced challenging conditions in the aftermath of Storm Arwen, and I pay tribute to the many colleagues in those companies who supported customers and worked to get them back on power as quickly as possible.

“However, it was unacceptable that nearly 4,000 homes in parts of England and Scotland were off power for over a week, often without accurate information as to when power would be restored.

“Network companies need to do better, not just to prevent power disruptions, but to ensure that when power is off, they work smarter to get people back on power quicker, and keep customers informed with accurate and timely information. This is the very least customers should be able to expect.

“The frequency of extreme weather events is only set to increase so it is really important that industry, and those involved more widely, learn from Storm Arwen to better respond in future.” 

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