Power firm 'may not cope' with storms

DOUBTS have been cast on a power firm's ability to cope should there be a repeat of the storms that crippled the region's network one year ago today .Consumer watchdog Energywatch said it was "not convinced" that EDF Energy had done enough to ensure it could deal sufficiently with a similar crisis.

By Jonathan Barnes

DOUBTS have been cast on a power firm's ability to cope should there be a repeat of the storms that crippled the region's network one year ago today .

Consumer watchdog Energywatch said it was "not convinced" that EDF Energy had done enough to ensure it could deal sufficiently with a similar crisis.

But the electricity company insisted it had made major improvements and had robust plans in place.


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More than 500,000 properties in East Anglia lost power at the height of last October's gale-force winds – and some were still without electricity nine days later.

The firm – then called 24seven – came in for severe criticism for its handling of the crisis after around 18,000 properties waited for more than four days for their power supplies to be fixed.

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Engineers had to be imported from France to help with the task and the company received a deluge of compensation claims.

Alister Foye, spokesman for Energywatch, said: "The firm's performance during last October's storms was pretty awful and we hoped lessons would be learned.

"They (EDF Energy) assured customers things were going to be improved but, to be honest, we remain to be convinced."

He added: "There were storms only last month and once again there were communication problems and problems with supply.

"The weather was not even that severe and power lines were coming down, and customers were not able to get through to find out any information. It was not good enough."

Mr Foye said Energywatch was concerned about the company's maintenance programme, including delays in cutting back trees that could bring down power lines, and believed plans for compensation payments were "inadequate".

"We need to be sure their plans are reliable and robust enough, we shouldn't have to wait until another storm to see if that is case," he added.

But Jim Whittaker, head of network services east at EDF Energy, said: "We have developed a robust action plan to improve our performance in emergency situations.

"Our new management team has implemented 55 of the 57 improvements identified by the company following the storm. We remain on target to complete the remaining points by the end of 2003."

Mr Whittaker said the firm's contingency plans had been regularly tested since the storms, including full-day emergency scenario exercises, involving over 400 staff, the DTi, Ofgem, Energywatch and representatives from local authorities.

"Moreover, our ability to deal with emergency situations was tested on January 30 and 31, when parts of East of England were subjected to a severe snow and wind storm," he said.

"Despite transport difficulties, with many roads blocked, we restored service to 90% of over 100,000 customers affected within three hours and made final restorations to service within 32 hours."

Mr Whittaker said £300 million was being invested into reinforcing and improving the network and a spokeswoman added £4 million was being spent this year on tree trimming near low and high voltage lines in the region.

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