Switched on London discuss how a publicly owned energy company in London can achieve an affordable, fair and democratic energy system.
The biggest threat to family life in London is the cost of living. Not only housing itself, but the costs of keeping a home running: water, council tax, bills and energy. The struggle for a more just and affordable city needs to be fought on many fronts. It is on this last front – energy – that Switched on London is focusing its sights. It is time London had a public energy company, run for people, not for profit.
Last winter, 66% of Londoners turned off or hesitated to use their heating because of worries about their energy bills. Children are growing up in poorly insulated, cold homes, with their parents forced to choose between a hot meal and a warm bedroom.
In a city like London, this doesn’t have to be the case. For too long the energy system in the UK and in London has been dominated by the Big Six. The botched experiment with a private system has undermined the basic right to energy which is affordable, fair and democratic. The needs of the many have been compromised by the profit motives of the few in vast fossil fuel corporations.
There is another way to organise our energy system. Switched on London is campaigning to secure a publically owned, democratically run municipal energy company. Such a company could be owned by the Greater London Authority or Boroughs acting in co-operation. Our research, with the New Economics Foundation, suggests that by using the resources of the public sector, and without the need for the vast profits and salaries of the Big Six the company could deliver reduced bills to Londoners by up to 25%. What is more, a public energy company would end the malpractice of private companies, with no more energy cut-offs, unwanted and expensive pre-payment meters. Finally, the company could drive a renewable energy surge in London.
This is not a pipe dream: Nottingham City Council have already established a publically owned electricity company which is cutting bills and delivering vastly improved customer service for residents in and beyond the city. Bristol and Glasgow are following similar models and municipal utilities are in place across Europe and the United States, from Hamburg to Sacramento.
The transition to a new, low-carbon energy system does not need to mean more of the same undemocratic, plutocratic companies controlling the production and supply of electricity. On the contrary, it is an opportunity for the public, community and co-operative sectors to create a cleaner, more democratic system. A public energy company would give these sectors the support they need, buying in bulk from local suppliers and delivering energy directly to households.
As families struggle in fuel poverty and choke on dirty air, 73% of Londoners would be more likely to vote for a mayor with a credible plan to lower energy bills. 77% of Londoners think a public company is the answer. What are the mayoral candidates waiting for?