It’s no surprise that people have been cranking the heating up more than usual this year – the freezing first quarter of 2012 was enough to get anyone layering up. Of course, this means the energy companies are quids in. British Gas’ owner said that residential gas use rose 18% and electricity use by 3% compared with the same four-month period last year.
But in what appears to be a near-unbelievable piece of altruism, the firm insists that the money will be used to keep prices where they are instead of creaming it off as extra profit. In a statement, it said: ‘Any benefit arising from the exceptionally cold weather will be used to maintain our price competitiveness’. OK, so the firm stopped short of openly offering a price freeze, but a spokesperson did tell the Telegraph that the firm plans to ‘hold prices for as long as possible’.
In the customer-numbers department, British Gas is on a bit of a roll: it has signed up 28,000 new residential users so far in 2013, and obviously feels that keeping costs low whilst other providers ratchet up their prices is likely to propel this growth further. Furthermore, over the period, SSE was fined £10.5m for mis-selling, and Npower was lambasted by MPs over its tax arrangements, so British Gas has got the better PR cocktail for the foreseeable future.
What’s in the pipeline for Centrica? Well, during the bumper four month period it pulled out of plans to build new nuclear plants in the UK, over concerns about costs. It still has a new offshore wind farm in the offing (forgive the pun) off the coast of Norfolk, but it still needs to reach a deal with government ministers on subsidy money for the project, which will cost about £1.5bn. So future investment plans remain mere hot air for the time being.
It will be interesting to see whether Centrica does keep prices where they are. It’s an awfully good opportunity to raise the divi, after all…