After the severe snowfall in March of this year, the Scottish Affairs Committee has decided to hold a follow-up to last year’s inquiry into the electricity grid in Scotland, to find out what lessons were learnt and what progress, if any, was made to enable the power companies, local authorities and consumers to cope better with this latest round of adverse conditions.
The Committee is calling on local residents and businesses who were affected to email the Committee with their experiences, to feed into the lines of questioning in the Committee’s inquiry.
In August of last year the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee reported on shortcomings in the major power companies’ preparedness for bad weather events. It also expressed its concern that the compensation levels for power outages set by Ofgem were not adequately compensating consumers for the consequences of power cuts or providing adequate incentive to the power distributors to provide good quality service.
The Committee called on Ofgem to extend the right to compensation for power outs following extreme weather to the Highlands & Islands, which were excluded despite being among the most severely affected: Ofgem has since agreed to this recommendation although it has yet to come into effect.
That report followed severe storms in Scotland in December 2011 and January 2012 which had caused damage to homes, road and rail infrastructure, as well as leaving tens of thousands of residents without a power supply. Although all of Scotland was affected, it appears that the most severe damage occurred in the Highlands and Islands. The storms left many residents and businesses without electricity for several days. Many residents in remote areas rely on the electricity supply for heating, lighting, cooking and communications, and many businesses were unable to function during the power cut and lost valuable stock and equipment.
The Committee also heard evidence that many consumers were subject to many power cuts and power surges, ranging from many small multiple cuts in a day to very lengthy ones lasting over 24 hours, not necessarily related to weather conditions. Such events put stress on electrical equipment and can damage them or shorten their life. They also mean residents have to invest in expensive surge protectors for each piece of equipment.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) operatives described the infrastructure on parts of Islay as old, outdated and very corroded, causing faults and failures on the line. The Committee reported that SSE’s performance on Islay in the wake of these events was unacceptable and said SSE must keep it informed of progress in completing the four major investment projects it has planned.
Alan Reid MP, the Committee Member leading this inquiry, said:
"Extreme weather is no rarity in Scotland and power companies and local authorities must be fully prepared for the adverse effects of severe weather on homes, businesses and emergency services.
In our report last summer we promised to monitor the energy companies’ progress on this important issue and by holding this follow up evidence session now we intend to make good on that promise, to hold the power companies to account on behalf of Scottish electricity consumers.
In the snowfall in March of this year, the three areas worst affected were Kintyre, Arran and Wigtownshire, areas covered by two separate power companies, SSE and Scottish Power. However one of the major problems this time was the inability of Argyll & Bute Council to re-open the A83, which prevented SSE engineers getting to those parts of Kintyre which had lost power.
In this follow up we’d like to question the power companies, the local authorities and the mobile phone operators association. The power companies will be asked what they can do to strengthen their network and improve their reactions when disaster does strike. From the Local Authorities, we expect questions to be answered about their preparedness in keeping the roads open and looking after vulnerable people. The mobile phone operators will be asked what more they could do to make their networks more resilient in emergencies.
We are calling on residents and businesspeople in the affected areas to tell us about their experiences during this time, to inform our questioning in this inquiry. Please email us with details of your experiences with the Council and with the power companies, to [email protected]"
The first evidence session will be with Argyll and Bute Council on Tuesday the 25th of June at 2.30pm, in Committee Room 6, Palace of Westminster.
The Committee is asking local residents and businesses to email with their experiences to [email protected] before then.