Dr Daniel Poulter is the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee Select Committee.
The energy sector has been radically transformed over the past 30 years. Britain’s national and regional energy monopolies of the 1980s have been replaced with an energy market. But an energy market is only valuable if it empowers the people it serves – its customers.
In recent years, energy prices have been rising faster than inflation, and this has put the operations of energy companies under ever greater scrutiny. Consumer engagement in the energy market has been historically and stubbornly low, mainly as a result of highly complex energy tariffs and a lack of energy pricing transparency.
A lack of transparency which has even infiltrated many price comparison websites which purport to champion consumer rights. The ‘big six’ energy companies and the energy sector regulator Ofgem have been slow to respond to tackle these problems. As a result, there is much to be done to restore consumer confidence, and to reinvigorate the energy market and bring genuinely good deals and lower prices to energy customers
There are encouraging signs that innovative consumer-led campaigns are helping to make this happen.
As MPs, we have to deal with a lot of email campaigns. We try our best to respond to them but when hundreds of identical emails hit your inbox it can be time consuming and tiresome particularly for our overworked parliamentary staff. Furthermore, mass e-mail campaigns can be destructive in their use of extreme and emotive language; too often irritating MPs rather than persuading them to act.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about a campaign launched last week by 38 Degrees. Alongside a consumer collective called The Big Deal they have set up The Clean Energy Switch.
It’s the first-ever mass switch to clean energy. Polling shows that people are worried about climate change and do want to go green. But they also think it will cost them much more. And in tough times they aren’t willing to pay more. However, if you ask people if they will go green as long as it doesn’t cost extra then there is huge support.
This campaign aims to go further. By using the collective bargaining power of tens of thousands of people, it aims to negotiate a great deal for clean energy with green energy companies. Thereby making green energy affordable for millions of families. People will be able to have clean energy and save money.
There’s no doubt there is public support for this initiative. 50,000 people signed up to the Clean Energy Switch in the first week.
Leaving aside whether or not cuts to the renewables industry in recent months are right or wrong, this campaign should be commended. It’s a bottom-up, constructive approach. It’s not calling for government to do something to deal with a problem, but rather it’s taking action to do something itself.
It’s not negative and destructive. Instead it’s empowering. People across the country have real power in their consumer choices. And together they are even stronger. 38 Degrees and The Big Deal should be praised for such a positive approach.
It’s for all these reasons that I’m publicly backing the Clean Energy Switch and am urging my constituents to sign up and get behind it too.
I hope my fellow Tory MPs do the same. Indeed, the campaign’s approach should appeal to all Conservatives. The energy market is without doubt broken or at best working extremely poorly. There’s monopoly behaviour from the Big 6 and there are too many people – often the old and the most vulnerable – who pay too much year on year.
The Clean Energy Switch doesn’t demand government or regulators to do something to solve this problem. That too often leads to market distortions and perverse incentives anyway.
Instead it takes a free market approach to dealing with a free market problem. People’s consumption choices can and often do reshape markets for the better. They are a real force for good if pooled together and harnessed effectively. That’s why I hope that Conhome readers who want to help the environment and save money on their energy bills consider getting involved in this consumer movement.
For more information about The Clean Energy Switch see www.thebigdeal.com.