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UK.gov threatens to 'pull plug' on smart meter rollout

Hard-up punters unimpressed, Whitehall nervous

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Concerns were raised during a committee hearing in Parliament yesterday over the government's £12bn plan to rapidly roll out smart energy meters in the UK by 2019.

A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers on lower incomes, the House of Commons Public Accounts committee was warned.

"Poorer households are even less engaged with their energy supplier than the rest of the population," said a Which? spokesman at the hearing.

"There's a real risk here that they will also be the least likely to benefit from the smart meter rollout," he added.

Worse still, taxpayers will be saddled with higher bills while the smart meter technology is being rolled out across the UK. A typical consumer will cough £6 per annum per household to help pay for the rollout, for example. Meanwhile, energy companies keep ratcheting up bills.

Permanent secretary Moira Wallace, whose Department for Energy and Climate Change is accountable for delivering the plan on time and to budget, said her dept was paying close attention to previous failed government IT projects in an effort to learn from such public spending disasters.

"We are trying to make sure there is appropriate time for consultation, we're working with industry groups," said Wallace.

She admitted that the department could yet "pull the plug" on the entire project if reviews planned for 2012 and 2013 demonstrated serious problems with the rollout.

"We are very clear that this has to be a programme that delivers for consumers," said Wallace. "We are of course taking advice from the energy industry too... They employ the installers." ®

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