Wednesday, 7 May 2008

New energy rights for consumers

With so much attention on the issue of full ownership unbundling one other aspect of the Morgan report on the internal energy market which does deserve greater focus is its push for stronger consumer protection measures.

During yesterday's vote MEPs backed amendments that want to see customers having:

  • the legal right to withdraw from contracts with their electricity providers without charge,
  • the right to compensation if service quality levels are not met (as with, for example, inaccurate and delayed billing),
  • access to information on their rights through bills and electricity company web sites,
  • access to information on procedures to be followed in the event of disputes,
  • the right to change suppliers within two weeks,
  • the right to be informed, at least quarterly, of actual electricity consumption and costs, access to smart meters within 10 years of the entry into force of the third energy liberalisation package,
  • the right to have their electricity provided by a supplier regardless of the Member State in which the supplier is registered,
  • access to information on the environmental impact (CO2 emissions and radioactive waste) resulting from the electricity produced by the supplier, and
  • the right to protection against market abuse: national authorities must be able to impose "price caps in uncompetitive markets for a defined and limited period" in the event of sudden hikes in energy prices.

The Energy Committee also gave its support to a number of measures aimed at tackling the important issue of energy poverty. Given the ongoing rapid rise in energy prices MEPs urged Member States to cut the cost of energy to low-income households and to guarantee the same conditions for those living in remote areas.

In addition, Member States "may require that a minimum of 2% of all electricity revenues from domestic consumers is spent to fund energy efficiency".

The Commission is currently preparing a new online database on the rights of energy consumers. The European Energy Consumer Checklist will set out information about local and regional energy markets based on responses by the member states concerning various aspects of retail energy markets.

A new Citizens' Energy Forum is also being established by the Commission as a platform for debating consumer protection issues between key stakeholders including energy regulators, competition authorities, national bodies competent for enforcing energy consumer rights, member states' energy and consumer authorities and industry and consumer associations from both European and national levels.

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