PM orders UK energy companies to speed up repairs after Storm Arwen

Boris Johnson has ordered energy companies to get a grip after tens of thousands of homes across England, Scotland and Wales were left without electricity for four days.

The prime minister said on Tuesday power had been restored to 950,000 homes since Storm Arwen caused widespread damage to power distribution networks. “But it’s clear that for (about) 50,000 people that’s not good enough, I want to reassure people we are working as hard as we can to get power back to those homes.”

The scale of the storm disruption, which companies said was the worst for at least 15 years, about the resilience of the UK’s grid amid concern that climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent.

About 45,000 customers in northern England, Wales and Scotland were without electricity by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, down from 66,000 on Monday night and nearly 1m that suffered power cuts after Storm Arwen hit on Friday, according to the industry body Energy Networks Association.

“Over the past five years electricity networks have invested over £730m in resilience measures across the country to mitigate crises like this,” the association said.

Thousands of households were expected to still be without power by Wednesday with some isolated homes potentially taking even longer to reconnect.

The business, energy and industrial strategy committee has summoned National Grid to appear before it in the coming days, where MPs are expected to raise concerns about the power cuts.

One UK government official said there was “immense frustration” about the situation. But ministers are alive to the practical difficulties facing network operators, including snapped electricity poles, downed wires and treacherous road conditions making access hard for engineers.

Customers have complained about the difficulty getting through to power companies. On Tuesday afternoon Northern Powergrid and Electricity North West, the hardest hit English suppliers, did not answer calls to their press offices.

Ed Miliband, shadow energy secretary, said communication from energy companies was “absolutely essential” in such a distressing situation. “Government and power companies must explain to communities facing real distress and hardship what they are doing,” he said.

SP Energy Networks, which suffered extensive damage to its lines in south-west Scotland, said it had taken the equivalent of a normal two months of customer calls in just three days.

Graeme Keddie, director of corporate affairs at Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, said it hoped to restore power overnight to more than half of the 14,000 customers on its network in north-east Scotland that were still cut off on Tuesday afternoon.

Keddie said Storm Arwen had been a “once-in-decades event” with damage even to robust high-voltage transmission lines and disastrous effects on local lines hit by branches and even flying farm equipment.

“Storm Arwen has brought catastrophic damage to parts of our network that go well beyond what you can prepare for,” he said.

The disruption will increase concerns about grid resilience in the face of climate change.

The Met Office, the national meteorological service, said in its State of the UK Climate report last year that there had been “no compelling trends” in storminess as determined by maximum gust speeds over the last five decades.

But the UK government announced in August it would fund a research programme into how to increase resilience of national infrastructure in the face of extreme weather events.

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