Energy firms could be forced to put rivals' cheaper deals on bills

ENERGY companies could be forced to display rivals' cheaper prices on their bills under plans to be considered by the Government.

Ministers want consumers to be given clear information on gas and electricity bills to help them save cash.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne revealed the Government hopes to come to an agreement with suppliers which could see them forced to list their own cheapest tariffs and even those offered by rivals.

In a pitch to position the coalition as the greenest Government the country has seen, Mr Huhne also warned Liberal Democrat activists they must accept nuclear power – telling them "a deal is a deal" – but set himself on collision course with conservationists by calling for offshore wind farms to be built "again and again round Britain's coasts".

He also announced a plan to create almost 250,000 jobs in green industries to offset the economic "drag anchor" of budget cuts in a "green deal" which was one of the Lib Dems' key pledges at the General Election.

Thousands of workers will modernise some 26 million homes to make them more energy efficient as part of the coalition's ambition to be the "greenest Government ever".

Speaking before his main address to the conference, Mr Huhne said energy companies would never again be able to impose "outrageous" price rises on consumers, with plans to ensure they are told sooner about price rises.

The Government will seek to reach a voluntary deal with suppliers to provide more information about cheaper tariffs on bills, although Ministers have not ruled out forcing companies to act if necessary.

"We need to provide consumers with more information so if they've got an energy supplier who's frankly charging a little more than they ought to compared with other ones in the market, then it makes it easier to switch, because they can actually see on the bill, I hope, the other deals that might be on offer," he said.

Audrey Gallacher, head of energy policy at watchdog Consumer Focus, said: "Getting energy suppliers to give consumers more warning of price rises is something we've called on Ofgem to do and this announcement is a step in the right direction.

"However, there is no justification for price hikes this winter. If people are going to pay more for their energy, it is absolutely right they know in advance, not up to two months later."

Under the green deal policy, companies will pay up front to insulate homes, with householders paying back from the energy savings that will result.

"Consumers will save energy and save money," said Mr Huhne. "But the green deal could also create a whole new industry that will help offset the drag anchor of the budget squeeze. Not just the 26,000 people working in insulation now, but up to 250,000 jobs in every part of the country, working on 26 million homes. And going into commercial premises too, so that small businesses also save money."

Mr Huhne promised it would mean a "revolution" and hailed it as "the most ambitious energy-saving plan ever put forward".

"A once-and-for-all refit that will make every home in Britain ready for a low-carbon future," he said. "No more half-measures going off at half-cock."

On the contentious issue of nuclear power – which Lib Dems traditionally oppose but the Tories back – Mr Huhne said the coalition agreement involved "give and take".

"I expect (Chancellor) George Osborne to take more millions of the low-paid out of income tax even though he is a Conservative Minister implementing a Liberal Democrat pledge," he said.

"And George Osborne expects me to deliver our agreement on nuclear power, which is that there is an important place for new nuclear stations in our energy mix as long as there is no public subsidy. A deal is a deal, and I will deliver.

"I'm fed up with the stand-off between renewable and nuclear which means we have neither – we will have both. We will have low-carbon energy, and security of supply."

Mr Huhne also announced a new "Government-wide carbon plan" setting out policies and deadlines for each department to "ensure real action on climate change".

The speech was criticised by Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North.

"Chris Huhne has let down those who believed the coalition's pledge to be the greenest government ever," he said. "No money for the green investment bank, no upgrade of the ports that are so vital for our offshore wind industry, no commitment to clean energy cashback for electricity or heat. And no plan to tackle fuel poverty."

Opinion & analysis: Page 13.

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