British govt wants answers on soaring energy bills: report
(AFP) - Britain's finance minister Alistair Darling has called for a meeting with the country's energy regulator amid concern at steep rises in domestic fuel prices, British newspapers said Monday.
The Times said it had seen a letter from the chancellor of the exchequer to the heads of the independent regulator Ofgem and that he was concerned about the effect of double-digit hikes in consumer bills on macro-economic stability.
"I would be interested in receiving your assessment of gas and electricity supply and market conditions both in the UK and Europe and likely future trends," said the letter to Ofgem's chairman and chief executive.
Britain's fourth-largest energy supplier npower, owned by Germany's E.ON, last week said domestic customers would have to pay an average increase of 17.2 percent for gas and 12.7 percent for electricity.
Householders in some areas face up to 27 percent increases, with the prospect of energy bills going through the 1,000-pound-a-year (1,337-euro, 1,971-dollar) mark for the first time.
The announcement came against the backdrop of oil trading at more than 100 US dollars per barrel, prompting concerns that other utilities may follow suit plus concern from consumer groups and calls to say if the rises are justified.
Darling's letter also calls for Ofgem's views on the relationship between wholesale energy prices and domestic retail prices and whether firms were not using the fluctuating energy market to push up tariffs.
The FT, which carried a similar report, assessed that higher energy bills in Britain could not only impact on government attempts to curb inflation but also its efforts to tackle "fuel poverty".
Meanwhile, The Guardian said Monday that a planned levy of companies wanting to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain could mean higher electricity bills for consumers as the cost is passed on.
Energy Secretary John Hutton is to announce the government's decision on the planned nuclear programme this week.