Costs 'fiasco' fear on smart meters
Ministers have been urged to halt the planned roll-out of new energy meters to every home in Britain until they can guarantee that the costs will not escalate uncontrollably.
Consumer campaign group Which? said the Government's "hands off" approach to the installation of smart meters by energy companies meant it was at risk of becoming a "fiasco".
The Department of Energy and Climate Change believes the cost of introducing the meters to 30 million homes and businesses between 2014 and 2019 will be about £11.7 billion.
But Which? said the current plans contained no way of controlling the costs associated with the roll-out or how they are passed on to customers who are already struggling with high fuel bills. It said that allowing energy firms to run the roll-out risked damaging confidence in the entire scheme.
Smart meters will give consumers better information on their energy consumption, increase off-peak tariff usage and allow suppliers to take remote readings. But the National Audit Office warned in a report last year there are "major risks" associated with the planned rollout and that the cost benefits of the scheme are "uncertain".
After commissioning its own report by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Which? called for the Government to review its approach and take a strong leadership role on the rollout.
Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, said the Government did not have a "credible plan" to keep costs under control. He said: "Smart meters can bring many benefits, but consumers won't accept them at any cost, or from suppliers they don't trust."
Energy Minister Charles Hendry said there would be an £18.1 billion benefit from an £11.1 billion investment which the Government wanted to realise "sooner rather than later".
"The introduction of smart meters will unlock huge benefits for the UK and the Coalition Government has published detailed plans showing how we will deliver this. The last thing we need is more dither and delay," he said.
"We accept that in the past government had been too hands-off and that is exactly why we have brought the programme in-house. We are determined to take the scheme forward, with ministerial oversight and safeguards for consumers built in."