Fuel on the fire
Another cheap shot at energy firms misses the mark
GIVEN the parlous state of Britain's energy system, it is hard to think that Ed Davey, the energy secretary, would want more publicity. Yet on February 10th newspapers published a letter he had written to regulators who are reviewing the market. He urged them to investigate whether energy companies are making excessive profits from selling gas, which he said earns higher margins than flogging electricity. He singled out British Gas, which in 2012 supplied gas to about 40% of Britain's households at a profit margin of more than 11%.
Energy buffs have long moaned about the strong position British Gas—owned by Centrica, a big energy firm—enjoys in the domestic gas market. It inherited a huge number of customers from its days as a state monopoly, some of whom could be paying over the odds because they have never looked for a better deal. But by focusing narrowly on gas, Mr Davey overstates Centrica's success. In 2012 the firm lost money selling electricity, bringing the margin across its domestic supply business down to 6.6%.
This figure is high; but it is not extraordinary, or certain to be sustained. Nor do Centrica's competitors seem to be banking exuberant rents. The “Big Six” retailers earned an average margin on domestic energy sales of 4.3% in 2012. Three of them did better supplying electricity than gas. British households continue to pay less for energy than many Europeans.
The simplest way to erode Centrica's grip on the gas market is to encourage long-standing customers to move elsewhere. The number of households switching supplier has fallen sharply since 2008, in part because regulators have curbed doorstep selling. The government enthuses about community switching schemes, in which neighbours find new suppliers together; Ofgem, the regulator, now requires energy firms to contact customers who are paying more than they should.
It will be some time before that has an effect. Yet what most vexes critics of the market is not hefty retail margins but fear that energy firms are making outsized profits elsewhere, for example in power generation. This is difficult to prove, which is why the government last year asked regulators to carry out a broad assessment of the market. Their report, due next month, could lead to a more thorough investigation by the Competition Commission.
That is starting to look like an attractive outcome to some energy executives, who have repeatedly been battered by politicians. Shares in Centrica dipped 3.5% following publication of Mr Davey's letter; they are a quarter lower than in September, when Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, promised to freeze energy bills if elected. The regulators' report, and any inquiry that follows, may give Mr Davey reason to set the market ablaze. Until then he should resist poking the coals.
1.look for 寻找
例句:Second, look for work you believe is worthwhile.
2.seem to 似乎
例句:Marks in the roadway seem to indicate that he skidded taking a sharp turn.
3.continue to 继续
例句:We'll continue to fight for a decent standard of living for our members.
4.carry out 进行;执行
例句:They also carry out experiments.