U.K. Blackout Risk Prompts Concern of Britons in Survey

Almost two-thirds of U.K. citizens say they are worried about the risk of electricity blackouts because of the government’s “confused” energy policy, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said.

About 64 percent of more than 2,000 people polled for the London-based institution said they’re worried about the prospect of power cuts, and 93 percent said they’re concerned about higher gas and electricity bills, according to an e-mailed statement today from the group. The government said in a statement that it’s “confident” the lights will stay on.

The government is trying to pass a law to spur the 110 billion pounds ($172 billion) of spending it says is needed in generators and grid upgrades by 2020. Ministers have been in talks for months with Electricite de France SA over the price it may get for power from a proposed new nuclear plant and have stepped up barriers to the building of onshore wind farms.

“There is a severe lack of public confidence in the Government’s confused energy policy,” said Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the institution. “Confidence in Government energy policy has been damaged by its mixed messages on low-carbon energy policy and uncertainty over its support for a new nuclear build program.”

All except for one of the U.K.’s nuclear power plants are scheduled to close by 2023. In March, Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee, which oversees the work of the government’s energy department, said ministers needed a “Plan B” in case new reactors aren’t built.

“The U.K. energy system is, by international standards, extremely resilient,” the Department of Energy and Climate Change said in an e-mailed statement. “We are confident that the reforms we’re introducing, the cross-party support they enjoy, and the interest we’re seeing in the market, will mean the lights stay on for the long term.”

Rising Blackout Chance

The energy regulator Ofgem estimated in October that because of power plant closures, the statistical probability of households losing power will rise to once in every 12 years by 2016 from once every 3,300 years now.

While EDF, Hitachi Ltd., Iberdrola and GDF Suez SA plan a combined 16 gigawatts of power stations in the U.K., EDF is the only company making progress with its proposals. Centrica Plc, EON SE and RWE AG have withdrawn from projects.

Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Galan said in February that Britain risks blackouts this decade unless it provides details soon on proposed auctions designed to remunerate generators for keeping capacity available to be switched on at times of peak demand. Last year, the former government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, warned about the possibility of outages without faster reforms of the energy industry.

The survey of 2,034 people was carried out by ICM on behalf of the Institution, which didn’t provide a margin of error. The institution has about 100,000 members representing mechanical engineers in the U.K. from industries including rail, aerospace and construction.

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