If you know anyone who is currently studying the art of propaganda – or what is now referred to as “Public Relations” – send them this article. It offers a terrific case study reference.
At first glance, the piece (and others very much like it) seems to be an earnest attempt at reporting negative customer attitudes toward the one industry that literally never runs out of energy for ripping people off. But a closer look highlights so much carefully-poured Smart Meter cool-aid that if Edward Bernays were alive today, he would be on his way to A&E to have his stomach pumped.
It is probably fair to say that nobody living within 10 miles of a newspaper stand or television in the UK will be surprised about the revelations of the survey being commented on: that most people do not trust Big Energy.
We know what Big Energy firms are like – profit-hungry, shareholder-driven corporations with your cash at the forefront of their minds – and we have plenty of examples of why they do not have our best interests at heart. Whether that’s via official Ofgem investigations, bunker-busting bust-ups in front of the Energy & Climate Change Committee or our own first-hand and anecdotal examples of consumer deception.
So why is the news that more than half of all Brits do not trust Big Energy actually news at all?
Well, sandwiched in between the unsurprising details of people’s disparaging views on Big Energy are the dulcet analyses of Sacha Deshmukh – the ex-PR boss-cum-CEO of the Government’s ‘Smart Meter Central Delivery Body’ (or the ‘SMCDB’), soon to be called ‘Smart Energy GB’ – a bit like ‘Team GB’, presumably to give us that warm, fuzzy, “we’re all in it together” feeling.
And the SMCDB is worthy of attention here because, not only does it have mandate for selling Big Energy’s Smart Meters to the public, it has a staggering £100mn PR budget to do it. (That’s of our tax money).
Before we cover Mr Deshmukh’s spin on things, we want to acknowledge that he may very well be genuinely concerned about consumers getting a better deal from the UK’s energy industry. After all:
- Prior to joining the SMCDB, Deshmukh was a partner at industry PR firm MHP http://www.mhpc.com
- MHP’s clients include EDF Energy (a Big Six supplier), Shell and Oil & Gas UK http://www.mhpc.com/clients/
- On the subject of MHP’s contract win, the Director of Comms at Oil & Gas UK pointed to previous experience that MHP had in the energy sector as a factor in their success http://www.prweek.com/uk/news/1130845/
- MHP has an advisory board which includes Sir John Grant – executive vice-president of policy and corporate affairs at BG Group – an off-shoot of British Gas. http://www.prweek.com/uk/news/1192644/
- Deshmukh also used to work at Consumer Focus (now Consumer Futures) – the statutory “consumer champion” which advised the industry in a presentation to go for a “soft start for a fast finish” to help ensure a full Smart Meter roll-out, whilst simultaneously acknowledging Smart Meter cancer risks (both “real” and “perceived”)
When he was appointed to the SMCDB, he was described as a “real consumer champion”. And who could possibly argue, with a background like that?
So in response to the results of the recent consumer survey conducted for the SMCDB itself (by Polulus), Deshmukh had the following to say:
“In an era when we are able to compare, record and track our household spending more easily than ever before, two in five of us have no idea whether we’re paying too much for our energy.”
Interesting interpretation but, the way we see it, in an era of unparalleled scamming by Big Energy, somewhere in the region of 95% of us (Big Energy’s market share) would be justified in thinking that we are probably paying too much for our energy. And with Smart Meters promising to add at least £400 to every single householder’s bill, it’s might actually go higher.
Deshmukh also says:
“Antiquated systems for recording energy use and managing billing are no longer fit for purpose.”
We see it differently. Analogue utility meters are tried and tested devices which do not pose a risk to people’s health, privacy or safety, do not compromise household or grid security, and do not have a reputation for over-billing consumers. Nor do they come with remote disconnection capabilities.
In fact, “old-style” analogue energy & utility meters are perfectly fit for the purposes of measuring energy usage.
But in an era of seemingly unending energy company scams, is it that one ‘new’ purpose of Smart Meters is to introduce dictatorial tariffs and allow energy companies to control our appliances? We ask because not only are Smart Meters designed to harvest vast amounts of personal information about our lives at home, but Ofgem openly promotes the idea of more invasive “Time-of-Use” (TOU) tariffs and “active demand control” – which is industry-speak for them shutting down power to your freezer when they want to.
One of the alleged upsides in this transfer of power is that you get to see how much energy you are using through an “In-Home Display”. But you could do this right now by getting a £15 energy monitor that does not hand-over appliance control or mountains of private information. That would deliver a £385 saving per home versus Smart Meters.
“Households need to be able to take control of their energy use and bills. For this to happen, the national smart meter roll-out is the essential transformation of the technology we use to buy energy. It will create newly empowered consumers, and increase trust in those who sell us gas and electricity, and our research bears this out.”
Our research shows this isn’t true. For starters, if the programme is about giving households control of their energy use and bills, why does the UK’s Smart Meter design specification mandate the ability for suppliers to perform “Active Demand Management” (AKA: remote appliance control) and also for companies to shut-off customer supplies remotely if increasingly inflated bills are not paid on time?
Secondly, pilot programmes across the world have shown that the only group empowered by Smart Meters are Big Energy & Utility where bills have gone up by up to 1,000% and energy reductions have not been sustained.
The only people that seem to be taking “control of energy use and bills” are the nice folks we pay our rising bills to.
Finally, Deshmukh says:
“Today, still over a year ahead of the start of the mass roll-out of smart meters, almost half of consumers told us that they are interested in having a smart meter installed in their homes. That is why it is so important that government is driving forward the programme to install smart meters across Great Britain and has brought together all the electricity and gas suppliers and networks to deliver this critical upgrade to the energy infrastructure in all of our homes.”
If the results of the survey are indeed accurate, then that means more than 50% of respondents told the SMCDB that they are NOT interested in having a smart meter installed in their homes. This information alone should force the government to stop the Smart Meter white elephant in its tracks – before it becomes yet another public health disaster and in all likelihood a significant, strategic, cyber-security threat.
Given the profound risks (and costs) associated with this programme, why is it – indeed – so important for the government to drive it forward, especially when the estimated savings are just £23 per year? If you believe your supplier will show you that return, then you will need to wait 16 years for the £12bn cost of the programme to be returned to your pocket. We don’t advise holding your breath for it.
In fact, the £100mn budget that the SMCDB has alone for selling the public on the idea of Smart Meters could provide the poorest one million in the UK with a £100 fuel-bill subsidy to see them through next winter. The total budget of £12bn could help the poorest two million with a £6,000 hardship fund to see them through the next two decades’ worth of winters.
Those numbers don’t just represent money saved on bills. They represent saved lives.
You can spin it whichever way you like, doc.
Read the survey results here: Most Britons don’t trust energy suppliers – The Scotsman.