(Bloomberg) – Boris Johnson has spoken to energy companies to discuss how they plan to spend their windfall profits and explore ways to help UK households struggling with the soaring cost of living.
While Thursday’s meeting with companies including Centrica Plc, Drax Group Plc and RWE AG was called by Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, Prime Minister and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was also present, according to a reading of the Treasure.
Hinting that the government could still impose new taxes on power generators, Zahawi said at the meeting that ministers continued to assess the extraordinary profits seen in parts of the power generation sector and the measures appropriate and proportionate to take, according to the Treasury reading. Earlier this year, the government imposed a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, but rejected the option of extending it to electricity producers.
The Johnsons administration is facing mounting criticism for not doing enough to prepare for a looming winter energy crisis, even as warnings mount of ever-higher household energy bills and analysis of its own administration shows that planned blackouts might be necessary in the worst case. .
The Prime Minister has said he will not make any major budget announcements while his ruling Conservative party elects his successor. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leads the second round with former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak.
Johnson, Zahawi and Kwarteng urged companies to invest more in North Sea oil and gas as well as renewable energy sources like biomass. A person familiar with the matter said they also discussed concerns about customers refusing to pay their bills, electricity market reform and what more can be done to help households whose energy bills are expected to now more than double in the coming months.
It was noted that the market does not always work for consumers and that extraordinarily high bills will end up hurting energy companies, the Treasury said.
UK foresees January blackouts in emergency energy plan
Cornwall Insight and Investec both say Britons are facing average annual energy bills topping 4,200 ($5,086) in January, up from just under 2,000 now, fueling already soaring inflation. If the cold weather combines with gas shortages over the winter, the UK could face a power capacity shortfall that will lead to organized blackouts for industry and even households as part of planning government emergency.
While it is normal for the Department of Kwartengs to hold regular meetings with energy companies, it is rare for the Chancellor and Prime Minister to attend.
The meeting comes as pressure mounts on Truss and Sunak to detail exactly how they would help households cope once the price cap rises in October. The government is reviewing each of their proposals on cost-of-living support and energy policy to prepare officials to deploy them quickly when one takes office on September 6, according to one of the people.
(Adds Zahawi’s comment to third paragraph.)
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