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Government Isn't Telling People To Curb Energy Use Despite New Blackout Warnings

National Grid pylons in Dorset (Alamy)

3 min read

Ministers are standing firm on a refusal to tell the public how to reduce energy usage after the National Grid warned that households face blackouts this winter in a worst-case scenario.

The National Grid said on Thursday that blackouts lasting up to three hours could impact homes in the coming months if the UK does not import sufficient energy supplies from Europe.

In a bid to protect the country's energy supplies this winter, from November there will be financial incentives for people to reduce their energy usage at peak times. They could do this by taking steps like using the washing macine overnight, for example.

The company said, however, that in the meantime households should not be affected, despite "unprecedented turmoil and volatility" in the energy market caused by Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The UK is much less directly reliant on Russian gas than countries in mainland Europe but there are warnings that further drop in the amount of Russian gas exported to Europe, could lead to the UK having more difficulty in securing European supplies.  

Liz Truss is today meeting with European leaders in Prague, where she will attempt to persuade them to maintain EU-UK energy links in the face of shortages. 

The prime minister insisted that the country "can get through the winter”.

She said: “What we’re clear about is we do have a good supply of energy in the UK.

"We are in a much better position than many other countries but of course, there’s always more we can do. That’s why I am here working with our partners making sure we do have a secure energy supply into the future.”

PoliticsHome reported last month that ahead of becoming prime minister, Truss was advised to launch an information campaign advising people on how to reduce energy usage this winter as a further means of protecting increasingly limited UK supplies.

There were renewed calls for her to do this when she announced that the typical household energy bill would be frozen, with some officials warning that the move would make people less likely to cut down on how much energy they use.

However, while ministers have discussed the idea, Downing Street remains against it and continues to insist that it is not for the government to tell people how to use energy.

A Cabinet minister who agrees with No.10 told PoliticsHome that they believed people would be cautious about how much their energy use despite the average bill being frozen at £2,500.

"People are smarter than you think," they said.

There is also a belief in government that there is no need for the state to advise people on reducing usage when energy companies themselves, as well as bodies like Citizens Advice, will do so in the coming months.

A BEIS spokesperson told PoliticsHome: "There are no plans for the government to tell the public to reduce usage for the sake of our energy supplies."

Truss ruled out energy rationing during the contest to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative party leader and prime minister, whereas her rival Rishi Sunak admitted "we shouldn’t rule anything out".

Ed Miliband, shadow climate change secretary, said the National Grid announcement "shows our vulnerability as a country as a direct consequence of a decade of failed Conservative energy policy".

“Banning onshore wind, slashing investment in energy efficiency, stalling nuclear and closing gas storage have led to higher bills and reliance on gas imports, leaving us more exposed to the impact of Putin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon," he said.

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