Bin British Gas – put energy in public hands

It is high time for a radical change to our energy system, writes Morten Thaysen.

It is high time for a radical change to our energy system, writes Morten Thaysen

Owner of British Gas, Centrica, is holding their AGM in London on the 12 May. And this year there will be plenty for shareholders of the UK’s biggest energy supplier to discuss. In 2013 they lost a staggering 362,000 customers to cheaper and smaller suppliers, received more than 1.2m customer complaints and then had to absorb the findings of a recent poll showing that 83 per cent of the population now think the energy system is broken.

There is indeed good reason to think the energy system is broken: last year British Gas earned more than £7m in profits every day, but still saw it necessary to raise it’s prices by over 9 per cent at a time when over 10,000 people died last winter from cold homes, when 20 per cent of households are in debt to their supplier, and when about 1 in 4 people are forced to ‘choose’ between heating or eating

It is high time for a radical change to our energy system. Simply breaking up the Big Six into smaller profit-first companies or imposing a temporary ‘price freeze’ is not enough. Both the poverty and climate crisis make it abundantly clear that we desperately need green energy that everyone can afford, and the Big Six has made it abundantly clear that private energy companies are not capable of providing this. We need energy in community and public hands.

Therefore Fuel Poverty Action will be protesting against British Gas at their AGM to demand an end to profiteering energy companies at the cost of dignity and lives and a transition to democratically controlled energy, green, and affordable energy.

Scandalous British Gas

The scandals of the big private energy companies seemingly have no end, revealing the corruption of the current energy system. Most recently a whistleblower revealed that British Gas has been paying incentives to their call centre workers for putting organisations and smaller companies on higher tariffs and thereby boosting British Gas’ profits. This year also saw British Gas owners Centricas’ CEO Sam Laidlaw give away his bonus in an act of ‘charity’ – only to receive £2 million in shares the following week.

But far from all of British Gas’ misdeeds have been covered by the media. Every year British Gas forcibly installs thousands of prepayment meters (more than any other company), sometimes by breaking in to people’s houses when they are not home. People on prepayment meters typically pay more for the energy they use and when anyone on a meter runs out of money to feed it with they are forced to live without heating and electricity.

On top of a heavy reliance on dirty and expensive fossil fuels, British Gas owner Centrica is now also a major investor in fracking. As a whole the Big Six energy companies have proven themselves incapable of making a shift to greener and safer forms of energy.

The alternatives are already here

In many ways the alternative future is already here. Renewable energy coops are starting all over the country – from Brixton to fracking-controversy village Balcombe – even if the numbers are not as big as abroad. Wind and solar is cheaper than ever and tidal and wave energy projects are in the pipeline.

It seems obvious that energy that priorities people and planet over profit is better for everyone, with even the government’s Energy and Climate Change Commission concluding that renewable rather than fossil fuels will be cheaper for both the government and for consumers in the long run. However, the government is still subsidising increasingly expensive and destructive fossil fuels with £billions of pounds while cutting support to renewable energy, and continuing to cut measures that will insulate homes and reduce fuel poverty.

With both a government that refuses to take action on fuel poverty whilst maintaining strong ties to the fossil fuel industry and energy companies such as British Gas that will rather invest in fracking than meet their customers needs we feel it is necessary to take action.

We believe that people have the right to keep warm as well as the right to energy that does not cause climate change or destroy the environment. If you agree, join us on the 12 of May in central London to #BinBritishGas!

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Morten Thaysen is an activist for Fuel Poverty Action

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