Sark’s electricity crisis is brewing again


We know our readers like to be kept informed about all the latest developments on Sark — the tiny island in the English Channel where funerals are led by tractor-hearses and residents are carted around on tractor-buses — as well as Brecquou, the neighbouring private island owned by the billionaire Barclay brothers. Or we hope you do, anyway. 

You might remember that last winter, Sark — which has neither cars nor streetlights and is officially designated a “dark-sky island” — was threatened with a total blackout. (Brecquou, incidentally, was and is not affected by this, as the island generates its own electricity.)

It came after the island’s monopolistic energy provider Sark Electricity Limited threatened to turn off the electricity supply after an independent price commissioner determined that rates were too high, and forced SEL to slash electricity prices by over 20 per cent to (a still very expensive) 52 pence per kilowatt hour. 

Eventually a temporary solution was found after the island’s government — named “Chief Pleas” — agreed to buy out the company. But on our (“now infamous”) visit to the island we found out the deal looked like it might fall through, as it didn’t look like the parties would be able to agree on a price. 

And indeed the deal never come to pass. Last month we told you that, after a summer truce, the crisis appeared to be back on. SEL told customers that prices were going to be hiked to 85 pence per unit — more than four times the UK average, and the highest known rate on Earth. (Somewhat ironically, one of the reasons given for this price hike were the costs involved in the legal wranglings over… electricity prices.) 

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Now the independent price commissioner, Antony White, has waded back into the drama. Late on Friday he put out a press release and determination saying that the issue had reached a “critical point”, and that he would consider legal action which would involve imposing a price control order.

From the release: 

The on-going issue of electricity prices on Sark, the highest known in the world, has reached a critical point for the island’s Electricity Price Control Commissioner and the sole supplier, Sark Electricity Limited.

After a full investigation and the analysis of responses from customers, the supplier and other interested parties, the Commissioner, Dr Anthony White, has confirmed that a price of around 53p per unit would be sufficient for Sark Electricity Limited to earn a reasonable profit. The price is currently 85p per unit and so is not fair and reasonable.

We spoke to the island’s hereditary seigneur, Christopher Beaumont, to get his thoughts on the latest developments in the saga, who told us: 

I think it’s daylight robbery. Greed has overtaken sensibility…

Given that we’ve got a private individual who effectively has a monopoly and isn’t behaving socially responsibly with it, then It seems reasonable to me that one might consider regulating the price. It’s not as if that’s an uncommon thing — there is price regulation across utilities in just about every developed country.

It looks like even island paradises might sometimes need some regulation here and there too. Who’d a thunk it?

Related links: 
Sark’s energy hits prices only billionaires can afford — FT Alphaville
Dark times for Sark as electricity crisis looms — FT
Sark: how electricity sparked Channel Island crisis — FT video
Alphaville spent 36 hours on the island of Sark. Here’s how it went — FT Alphaville
When fake news purveyors visit Sark — FT Alphaville
WHY DID THE FINANCIAL TIMES BLOGGER JEMIMA KELLY TRAVEL ALL THE WAY TO SARK IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER? — Sark Newspaper
WE ARE NONE THE WISER AS TO WHY THE FINANCIAL TIMES BLOGGER JEMIMA KELLY TRAVELLED TO SARK IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER — Sark Newspaper

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