Who provides your electricity?

ELECTRICITY (and the lack of it in parts) has been in the news lately with the financial problems at TXU and the gales which brought cables down across the region.

By Paul Geater


Political Editor


ELECTRICITY (and the lack of it in parts) has been in the news lately with the financial problems at TXU and the gales which brought cables down across the region.

Today the Evening Star tries to explain how the industry is made up at the end of 2002 – who does what to make that light bulb glow?

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What does my electricity supplier do?

It sends you a bill every month, or every quarter, for the electricity you have used.

In the new era of competition in the industry, there are many different companies offering to sell you electricity: TXU, British Gas, N-Power, Powergen, Scottish Power, Southern and Scottish, and LE Group to name a few.

After TXU's problems last month, the company's retail business was taken over by Powergen.

The suppliers are effectively brokers, buying electricity from generators – which may be themselves – and paying distribution network companies, which may again be themselves, to push it through their wires.

A proportion of your bill is paid by your supplier to 24seven. Part is paid to generators who make the electricity, and part is retained by the supplier to cover their costs and for their profit.

Who owns my electricity supplier?

Most electricity companies now are multi-national, operating in more than one country – a few have British headquarters but many are based elsewhere:

Powergen is owned by German company E.on.

LE Group, which owns London Electricity, SWEB, and SEEBOARD, as well as 24seven (see below) is owned by the French state-owned Electricite de France(EdF).

Scottish Power is British – but owns Pacificorp in the USA.

British Gas's holding company is now called Centrica which is British-focussed, and runs a number of businesses ranging from the AA to Goldfish credit cards.

Southern and Scottish Energy plc (Not to be confused with Scottish Power) is also British, and sells electricity under the Hydro, Swalec, and Southern Electric brands.

N-Power: British owned, supplies power to many homes but principle role is as a power generator.

Who owns the electricity distribution network?

In East Anglia the electricity network is owned by EPN (Eastern Power Network), part of the LE Group whose ultimate owner is EdF.

It is maintained and repaired by 24seven – another part of EdF.

That is paid by the electricity companies to carry electricity to their customers.

Technically, therefore, unless you buy your electricity from London Electricity or SEEBOARD you are not a customer of 24seven – it is your supplier who is the customer.

When you have a power cut, however, it is the responsibility of the distribution network to put it right and you should complain direct to them.

Unlike in most other cases, you don't complain to the company that sells you electricity and get them to chase up the network – you do it yourself.

Who generates the electricity?

Many power companies generate electricity as well as sell it to customers, but four firms dominate the generation business.

These are N-Power, Powergen, British Energy (which runs nuclear power stations including Sizewell B and is in serious financial difficulty) and Magnox Electric, a subsidiary of the state-owned British Nuclear Fuels Limited which runs older nuclear plants including Sizewell A.

Other companies, including TXU and LE Group, have their own generation capacity – although in TXU's case this is being merged with Powergen.

There are also several smaller-scale generators including Fibrowatt which has a power station powered by chicken manure at Eye airfield and Ecotricity which has a huge wind-powered generator at Swaffham in Norfolk.

What is the National Grid?

It's the high-voltage network which carries electricity around England and Wales.

The National Grid is part of a major British-owned multi-national which includes Transco, the gas pipeline network across the country, as well as the electricity distribution network in New York.

Is anyone else involved?

Meters are read by a separate company which does the work on behalf of all electricity suppliers.

In Suffolk – and most of the rest of the country – this is undertaken by Siemens Metering Services.

They provide the people who go from door to door reading meters – or more likely pushing notes through doors saying they called while you were out!

Bills are sometimes sent by yet another company – TXU's bills are sent out by a company called Vertex which specialises in mailshots.

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