Fossil Fuel Firms Flock to Conservative Party Conference

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Original article by Joey Grostern and Sam Bright republished from DeSmog.

Influential right-wing groups are set to host events featuring major polluters, days after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak watered down green targets.

Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.

A number of oil and gas firms have been announced as the hosts of stands and events at this year’s Conservative Party conference. 

The conference, which is being held from 1 to 4 October in Manchester, will play host to the likes of BP, British Gas’ parent company Centrica, petrochemical giant Valero, and Drax – the UK’s largest CO2 emitter. 

Events hosted by the companies will cover a range of energy and climate issues, and will feature senior Conservative MPs and ministers.

A range of influential right-wing organisations will co-host the panels. They include the Spectator magazine and groups based in and around Westminster’s Tufton Street, home to a network of opaquely funded, free market think tanks with a history of criticising climate action and pushing for more fossil fuel exploration.

This news comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week announced several delays to the government’s net zero policies. Sunak announced on Wednesday that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be pushed back from 2030 to 2035, while he also watered down schemes to phase out gas boilers and scrapped new energy efficiency regulations on rented homes. 

Dozens of organisations will be running stalls at the Tory conference, including a number of fossil fuel firms and major polluters. These include oil giant BP, petrochemical manufacturer INEOS, and Drax, which operates the UK’s single most polluting power station and has actively attempted to influence government energy policy in its favour. 

A “Hydrogen Zone” stand which “showcases what the hydrogen economy could deliver for the UK by 2030” will also exhibit projects from a number of gas extraction and distribution companies including RWE, Centrica, Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, National Gas, SGN, and Wales and West Utilities.

DeSmog has previously revealed that the Conservative Party received £3.5 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate science deniers in 2022, while two-thirds of the directors in charge of the party’s multi-million-pound endowment fund have a financial interest in oil, gas, and highly polluting industries.


The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a Tufton Street think tank, is hosting two separate events at the conference in partnership with gas companies. 

Valero, the US-based downstream petroleum company which operates an oil refinery in Pembroke, Wales, is hosting an event with the CPS entitled “How do we decarbonise and remain competitive?” featuring Conservative MPs Gareth Davies and John Penrose. 

French gas giant EDF and German-owned energy firm E.ON will also be co-hosting a CPS event asking how energy can be made cheaper. The panel will include Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Gareth Davies. 

The CPS has supported the expansion of fossil fuel exploration. In response to the release of the government’s new “energy security” strategy in April 2022, the think tank included ending the ban on fracking for shale gas in a list of “significant missed opportunities” by the government, along with onshore wind and home insulation.

This followed years of lobbying from the CPS on the subject, including a report in December 2013 entitled, “Why every serious environmentalist should favour fracking”. 

In an economic bulletin issued by the CPS in March 2022, the think tank also stated that “we need to continue to support offshore exploration and production activity in the North Sea. As part of this, the government should look at accelerating regulatory approval for upcoming oil and gas projects such as Rosebank… Clair South, Glengorm, Cambo and Bentley”.

The International Energy Agency has stated that new oil and gas exploration is incompatible with net zero.

A DeSmog investigation published earlier this year revealed that three CPS board members have donated £610,000 to the Conservative Party since Rishi Sunak became prime minister. 

CPS runs the online publication CapX, which has published a number of articles recently attacking net zero policies. One set of “positive” policy prescriptions featured in a piece by Andrew Hunt included pushes, in place of the “obsession” over net zero, to “force developers to build more beautiful buildings” and “replace ugly road bollards and railings with ‘green street furniture’”.

Vocal climate crisis denier Ross Clark also argued on CapX in February that net zero carries a “perverse incentive to destroy UK jobs”, and that Britain was “highly unlikely” to “get anywhere net zero by 2050”. In another CapX piece, Clark said it would be “impossible” for Britain to electrify its power grid by 2030.

The CPS told DeSmog that, in recent years, it has been “one of the most prominent champions of free-market environmentalism, with a dedicated workstream on net zero.

“Our director, Robert Colvile, has been one of the country’s most prominent advocates of onshore wind and solar, as well as co-authoring the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, which contained a prominent commitment to net zero. 

“Our CapX site offers a platform for robust debate on the policy issues of the day. The most cursory glance at our output would show that this includes publishing many pieces that are strongly supportive of net zero”.

A Spectator Sport 

The Spectator magazine will be hosting a Conservative conference event in association with Cadent Gas, discussing public consent for net zero. The event will feature two outspoken climate crisis deniers: Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who is also a GB News host, and Sherelle Jacobs, a columnist at the Telegraph.

Rees-Mogg is well-known for his anti-net zero views, and was a leading proponent of further fossil fuel extraction during Liz Truss’s short tenure as prime minister.

In August, Rees-Mogg argued that the government should “revisit its approach to net zero” and “cancel the ban” on oil-fired boilers from 2026, points which Sunak mirrored in his recent net zero announcement.

Jacobs has previously argued that climate science is “being manipulated into alarmist fake news,” and more recently claimed that net zero was a “damp squib”. 

The Spectator regularly publishes articles attacking net zero and questioning climate science. It  hosts the work of notorious climate crisis deniers such as Toby YoungRoss ClarkBrendan O’NeillCharles MooreDominic LawsonRod LiddleMatt Ridley and Rupert Darwall, among others.

An Spectator editorial published in reaction to Sunak’s climbdown on net zero measures claimed that the plan to phase-out the sale of new fossil-powered engines was a “always was a conspiracy against the public, justified on very thin environmental arguments,” and that Sunak’s announcement was “an important step”. 

The editorial argued for further climate inaction on the basis that Britain contributes less than 1 percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions. (This argument has been identified as a common example of the key climate delay tactic of “Whataboutism”, in an influential academic paper published by Cambridge University Press).

The Spectator is also hosting a drinks reception with newly formed UK gas infrastructure operator National Gas. 

National Gas is also set to host an event at the Conservative conference on the UK’s “need” for hydrogen entitled “Gassed up”. The event is being co-hosted with the influential centre-right think tank Onward.  Several of Onward’s former staff members are now working in Sunak’s government. 

German fossil fuel giant RWE, which owns and operates Europe’s second most polluting power plant, will also host an event in association with the Conservative Environment Network (CEN). The event will ask whether wind and solar energy are “energy saviours or a blight on our communities?”. The event will feature Lee Rowley, a minister at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

RWE also claims to be the world’s second largest offshore wind company and Europe’s third-largest renewable energy company.

Centrica is co-hosting an event with the CEN asking whether Britain is “winning or losing” at the “green industrial revolution”.

Liquefied Natural Gas supplier Liquid Gas will also host an event on decarbonising rural areas. 

The Spectator, the CEN, Onward and the Conservative Party have been approached for comment.

Original article by Joey Grostern and Sam Bright republished from DeSmog.

Greenpeace activists display a billboard during a protest outside Shell headquarters on July 27, 2023 in London.
Greenpeace activists display a billboard during a protest outside Shell headquarters on July 27, 2023 in London. (Photo: Handout/Chris J. Ratcliffe for Greenpeace via Getty Images)
Continue ReadingFossil Fuel Firms Flock to Conservative Party Conference

Ofgem ignored 700,000 debt complaints before British Gas scandal

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Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Exclusive: Energy regulator did nothing about mountain of complaints until British Gas prepayment scandal was revealed

Image of banknotes and prepayment meter key
More than 30,000 complaints were about the disconnection and forced installation of prepayment meters.  Image of banknotes and a prepayment meter key

Energy companies received more than 700,000 complaints about their treatment of debt-ridden customers over the last five years, openDemocracy can reveal.

In the last year alone, the energy regulator Ofgem was made aware of 40,000 complaints relating to the controversial forced fitting or disconnecting of pre-payment meters.

Yet the watchdog was only forced into action earlier this month when an undercover Times investigation found British Gas had sent bailiffs to break into vulnerable people’s homes and fit the meters by force. Following the expose, it suspended the practice until the end of March.

Centrica, the owner of British Gas, announced today that its profit had hit £3.3bn for 2022 – more than triple the £948m it made in 2021 – just weeks after the regulator launched an investigation into its use of bailiffs against at-risk customers.

Now, data obtained by openDemocracy through a Freedom of Information request has revealed for the first time the scale of alleged mistreatment of vulnerable customers since the energy price cap was first hiked in April.

“Ofgem has known about this crisis for years, and so have the companies themselves. Suppliers are not being honest when they act like they’ve just discovered it and they’re shocked, like the CEO of Centrica did,” Ruth London, co-founder of the Fuel Poverty Action campaign group, told openDemocracy.

Energy companies are required to report the number of complaints they receive from customers every month to Ofgem. Last year, they received 161,103 complaints related to disconnection and debt issues – of which 40,458 were about pre-payment meters – though Ofgem has consistently refused to tell us which suppliers received the most.

The category includes complaints from customers about their energy supply being disconnected or having a prepayment meter installed forcibly without a warrant or despite them being vulnerable.

Other examples of complaints include customers being disconnected by error or without due process and being put on debt repayment plans that are unsuitable or unaffordable.

The true number of people being ill-treated is likely to be much higher. Ofgem revealed at the beginning of February that customers were being left on hold for hours by energy companies, leading to more than half hanging up before they could report an issue.

Ofgem said revealing how many complaints different companies had received would breach Section 105 of the 2000 Utilities Act, which states that the public disclosure of information companies supply to the regulator is prohibited in order to protect national security. The law has previously been criticised for preventing whistleblowers from raising issues about the energy sector that are in the public interest.

The regulator said after the British Gas scandal broke that it was “unacceptable” to forcibly install prepayment meters before all other options had been exhausted.

But charities have criticised it for ignoring calls to end the practice for months.

“Lives have been and are being lost because of their silence and refusal to act on the truth they have long known,” said London.

Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it “should not have taken this long” for Ofgem to act. 

The charity said it saw more people unable to afford to top up their pre-payment metre last year than for the entirety of the previous decade combined.

The Times reported that British Gas customers who had prepayment meters forcibly installed had included a woman in her 50s who the company’s bailiffs were told had severe mental health problems and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and electric wheelchair”.

The paper’s undercover investigation also alleged that the Arvato Financial Solutions employees were incentivised with bonuses to fit prepayment meters. The boss of British Gas owner Centrica apologised and said he was “disappointed, livid and gutted”.

Last year, a non-executive director at the regulator resigned saying Ofgem had “not struck the right balance between the interests of consumers and interests of suppliers”.

Peter Smith, policy director at the charity National Energy Action, said: “The recent announcement by major suppliers that they would temporarily pause forced installations of pre-payment meters is welcome, but this was prompted by public shaming of suppliers and there is still no market-wide ban.

“We also desperately need a coherent plan to help millions of people already trapped on prepayment meters. This means rewiring the energy market to provide more affordable tariffs and finding new ways to address the underlying debt issues which are rife due to soaring energy costs.”

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We welcome Ofgem’s move to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters (PPMs), but it’s clear that thousands of households have been struggling with energy bills for some time now, which is evident in our own client data.

“For the people that have already been moved onto PPMs, there must be better protection to prevent self-disconnection and extreme energy rationing.”

Updated, 16 February 2023: This story has been amended to include fresh data obtained through freedom of information law on the number of complaints notified to Ofgem between 2018 and 2022. Previously, it just contained data for 10 months of 2022.

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Continue ReadingOfgem ignored 700,000 debt complaints before British Gas scandal