British Gas owner Centrica today announced its profits had risen five fold to £1.34billion – as it was revealed UK household energy bills could rocket to £500 a month amid Russian threats to cut Europe’s gas supplies.
The bumper operating profit for the six months to the end of June compares to the £262m recorded in the same period last year.
Centrica, which produces energy as well as selling it to households and businesses, announced it would restart its dividend at 1p per share after suspending it for three years.
Group chief executive Chris O’Shea defended the move, saying the money would support pensions whose income relies on dividends. He insisted the profit jump was not driven by the consumer business.
“The source of our profits is not customers’ rising energy bills’, he said – adding that profits at British Gas had fallen to £98m, down 43 per cent compared with before the energy crisis a year ago.
British Gas added more than 200,000 customers in the first half of the year amid an energy crisis that is destroying many of its rivals, including failed supplier Together Energy.
It came as projections suggested the average household could face a bill of £500 for energy in January 2023, with a prediction of an annual price cap of £3,850.
Wholesale gas prices surged yesterday after Vladimir Putin’s regime halved supplies to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, in what Germany condemned as a ‘duplicitous game’.
The move pushed up the price of gas across Europe, with many countries drawing up contingency plans to cut gas and electricity use by 15 per cent in order to conserve supplies and protect families through the winter.
These include turning off street lights, not heating public swimming pools and shutting down production at some major manufacturers, however more drastic measures may be necessary.
Germany and other European nations are racing to buy consignments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) via container from the United States, Africa and the Middle East, however this is pushing up prices and will be insufficient to fill the gap left by Russia.
Wholesale gas prices surged yesterday after Vladimir Putin’s regime halved supplies to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline
UK gas prices are soaring after Russia began throttling off supplies to Europe, causing a global shortage as EU leaders scramble for supplies
Many countries are drawing up contingency plans to cut gas and electricity to conserve supplies and protect families through the winter. Pictured: A file image
Contingency plans being drawn up by many nations include saving gas by no longer heating public swimming pools and turning off street lights
There are concerns about the UK’s ability to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on this winter. Pictured: A no street light warning in Yorkshire
Massive North Sea gas storage site ‘could reopen in time for winter’
Centrica said it is physically possible for its Rough gas storage site off England’s east coast to be open this winter.
Centrica is in discussions with the government and is carrying out the necessary engineering work to enable the site to reopen, CEO Chris O’Shea told journalists today on a call about the company’s interim results.
The site, which closed in 2018, previously provided about 70% of Britain’s gas storage capacity.
Any increase in the wholesale cost of gas is pushed through to electricity as it is used as fuel in around 40 per cent of UK power stations.
Separately, there are concerns about the UK’s ability to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on this winter, with the gap between maximum supply and maximum demand said to be ‘tight’.
The Electricity System Operator has indicated the situation could be particularly difficult in the first half of December.
The current price cap on energy tariffs is due to rise from just under the equivalent of £2,000 a year – based on typical use – in October and again in January.
Initial estimates suggested it would reach around £3,400 in the New Year.
However, analysis by energy industry experts at consultants BFY suggests the new increase in wholesale prices could see the figure hit the equivalent of £3,420 in October and £3,850 in January.
Given that energy use is heavy in January as people keep the central heating and lights on for longer, the bill for that month alone could potentially top £500.
Wholesale gas prices rose to all-time highs of 530p per therm for the coming winter on Wednesday morning.
EU prices are at near-record levels amid fears Russia could soon turn off the gas tap completely, with leaders already discussing energy rationing
Russia has reduced flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipe which goes to Germany to just 20 per cent capacity, sparking panic
Wood-burning plant in eco-probe
A controversial wood-burning power station faces a ‘greenwashing’ probe for claiming to be a source of renewable energy despite incinerating millions of trees a year, it emerged yesterday. The Drax power plant in Selby, North Yorkshire, produces around 6 per cent of the UK’s electricity and is classed as a source of renewable power, allowing it to claim £900million a year in public subsidies.
But the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) found yesterday there is a complaint to answer brought by environmental lawyers claiming that Drax is misleading consumers by portraying itself as a source of green energy.
The inquiry will assess whether Drax can legitimately claim this when it burns millions of trees a year. Drax claims burning wood is renewable because trees regrow.
The claim will be assessed by a government body, the UK National Contact Point for the OECD. A Drax spokesman said: ‘We are engaging with the NCP on next steps.’
Moscow has blamed maintenance issues, but the Nord Stream move is widely seen as Moscow ‘weaponising’ gas and deliberately limiting European supplies in retaliation for western sanctions.
There are fears that Russia could cut off supplies entirely.
Gemma Berwick, senior consultant at BFY, warned that ‘any further drops in flows will cause further price increase’.
While Britain has typically received only 4 per cent of its gas from Russia, it is linked by pipelines to Europe and is also reliant on securing LNG cargos, meaning prices in the UK are closely correlated with those on the continent.
Earlier this week, MPs on the business select committee demanded urgent action to improve the help offered to millions facing punishing energy bills this winter.
The Government has announced support for households, ranging from £400 to up to £1,200, but the MPs said this failed to take account of the rises coming this winter.
Committee chairman Darren Jones said: ‘Once again, the energy crisis is racing ahead of the Government.
‘To prevent millions from dropping into unmanageable debt, it’s imperative that the support package is updated and implemented before October, when the squeeze will become a full-on throttling of household finances and further tip the economy towards recession.’
Britain could come close to running out of electricity this winter, experts warn
Britain could come close to running out of electricity this winter, experts warned yesterday.
A report by the Electricity System Operator (ESO), the body tasked with balancing the National Grid, says there could be ‘tight periods’ in December – but believes it should be able to keep the lights on.
The grid needs to make sure that it has enough generators ready to go when demand for electricity peaks.
If the margin falls below certain levels, the ESO will send out an Electricity Margin Notice (EMN).
This lets generators know that more electricity is needed.
The ESO said: ‘We may need to use our standard operational tools to manage these periods should they occur which, for example, may mean issuing EMNs.
‘We expect there to be sufficient available capacity to respond to these market signals to meet consumer demand.’
In the report, it notes that Britain is not as reliant on Russian gas as other countries in Europe.
But ‘it is clear that the cessation of flows of gas into Europe could have knock-on impacts, including very high prices’.
The ESO has worked with the Government to ensure that four coal power stations are ready to use if they need to be called on this winter – and they are working on a fifth. It is also ‘exploring options’ to incentivise energy users to reduce their use during peak times.
Russian flows of gas to Europe have been reduced since the country launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Much of the UK’s electricity comes from gas, so any serious hit to gas supplies could impact the availability of electricity.