Behind the political battles over household bills lurks a far greater energy cost crisis. It risks damaging British industry and undermining attempts to boost productivity after Brexit.
Households are paying more for clean power than they should, but official data shows UK bills are still below average compared to the EU.
The picture is more worrying for industrial and commercial customers. In this league table UK businesses pay well above the average. The cost burden they bear is second only to Denmark.
The issue is under discussion at the Treasury. Officials are clear that for the UK to attract inward investment the country needs to be competitive on energy costs, even while taking action to reduce carbon emissions.
“This is why the Government has commissioned an independent review into the cost of energy led by Prof Dieter Helm … to deliver the Government’s carbon targets and ensure security of supply at minimum cost to both industry and domestic consumers,” the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said earlier this year.
The Helm review concluded that bungled policymaking and Governmental tinkering has meant the UK is paying “significantly” more than it should.
Andrew Buckley, a director at the Major Energy Users Council (MEUC), agrees. “The report refers to decarbonisation and social policies making up 20pc of bills,” he says.
“For our members we calculate that these costs will reach over 40pc by 2020 and this is the main reason why our industrial power bills are the amongst the most expensive in Europe.”
The Government has already been forced to provide an 85pc rebate on green energy taxes for UK steel makers. The £5m a month refund is meant to help avoid another crisis for the embattled industry. Energy costs remain a threat to other high-energy industries, however. Water companies are some of the highest energy users in the country, alongside factories and the data centres run by some of the biggest tech and telecoms giants
“Some energy intensive businesses receive some relief from these charges but the great majority of commercial and industrial companies amongst MEUC membership do not,” Buckley says. It comes at a time of paramount importance for the economy as Britain prepares to leave the European Union. At the same time the cost of importing parts is rising and attracting skilled labour is becoming more difficult.
Today, an annual electricity bill for one of Britain’s top 10 highest energy users stands at around £120m a year, but within a few years this will rise to £170m.