14 Mar 2006

Utility Supplies for New Homes

Britain has been unusual in Europe in liberalising its utility supplies. Whether this opening up of the market has been a success is hard to say because, whilst we have a choice of 30 or so utility suppliers, the actual prices we pay for electricity and gas seem to be currently rather higher than we would be paying if we lived in France or Germany.

And whereas once we could be pretty sure of the name of the local electricity company, now we basically haven’t got a clue. Nowhere is this confusion more pronounced than in the area of new home supplies. This has always been a bureaucratic nightmare but at least in the past you knew which bureaucracy you had to deal with. Gas was always British Gas, telecoms was always British Telecom, electricity was your local electricity company, which was typically named after the region you lived in.

No more. Take gas. In 1997, British Gas was split in two bits, BG and Centrica. Centrica was the bit that looked after domestic customers and it retains the use of the trade name British Gas. BG plc looked after the North Sea gas fields and the pipelines running around the country.

Then, just three year later, BG plc, the infrastructure business, subdivided once more. BG retained the gas fields, whilst the pipelines bit became a new company called Lattice. I can only imagine that this name was thought up by a committee of name creators after one too many café lattés and patisseries. Because the name was silly, the business traded as Transco, which sounded much more businesslike, even if it meant very little. But hardly had Lattice/Transco been created, when it merged with the National Grid, the business that runs the electricity infrastructure around the UK.

You can sort of see the logic here. Managers, complete with MBAs from prestigious business schools, sitting around boardrooms, thinking out of the box, no doubt, and thus making the amazing link between gas pipelines and high voltage electricity cables. “Let’s put them altogether into one company! Yes!” Shortly after the merger, in October 2005, the trading name Transco was dropped from the gas supply business and it all became known as National Grid.

What this now effectively means is that if you want a new gas supply, you have to apply to National Grid, which everyone thinks of as an electricity company. That instinctively feels wrong. It could be great if you could take advantage of this corporate rebranding and use one company to connect you to both mains gas and electricity. But that would be much too easy, wouldn’t it. National Grid plc doesn’t handle electricity connections to itself. These are still carried out by the local electricity companies.

So I hope this guide is useful. In summary, for gas supplies, you need National Grid, (covers most but not all of the country) whilst for electricity supplies you need the business that used to be your electricity board but will now be known as something completely different, which means you will have trouble finding them.

Not that Google will help you out here. Try typing ‘new home energy or utility supplies’ into the search field and you get lots of links to companies wanting to sell you the stuff once you have it plumbed in, but absolutely nothing about who you need to contact to get a quote to lay a supply.

One ray of light I have managed to uncover in all this is the utility supplier nPower. They claim to have a one-stop shop for new residential supplies which will negotiate and gather quotes from both gas and electricity suppliers. They work closely with a business called Siteworks which undertakes much of the actual connection work. You can search the nPower website for any sign of this service and not find anything at all but I spoke to a helpful guy on 08457 906050 who said “Just give us a bell, we’ll sort it all out.” It’s tempting to believe him but I haven’t had any feedback as to whether the nPower service actually delivers.

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