Green offers in short supply

British electricity customers have begun to shop around for their power as the first areas of the UK market open up to full liberalisation. But green power at a premium price is noticeably absent from the packages offered by electricity suppliers, who are now beginning to trade outside their own areas. Electricity from renewables is still only available if you live in either of the two areas in Britain that offer green tariff schemes.

Electricity Regulator Stephen Littlechild is ignoring any consideration other than price when he urges customers to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by competition. "Our message is simple: shop around, there are worthwhile savings to be made." Savings of £20 are already on offer on a yearly bill of some £260, he says.

Eastern Electricity and South Western Electricity Board (SWEB) are the only regional electricity companies (RECs) offering green tariffs -- and only to existing customers so far. After piloting its Green Electron package, SWEB was encouraged by the customer response and plans to offer it as a permanent product, says the company's Glen Cundert. At present, most of the power comes from landfill gas and small hydro sites. From next year the utility hopes to add wind to the product mix.

Despite its green tariff, SWEB falls at the bottom of Friends of the Earth's (FoE) "green league table" of electricity suppliers in its "Guide to Buying Green Energy." The table ranks power companies according to their overall environmental performance -- including whether they offer customers green energy -- and by their renewables targets. Greenest of the large suppliers is Eastern Electricity. It ploughs money raised through its green tariff back into new renewable capacity. It is also one of the most active renewables developers of the RECs.

The guide reveals that a further eight RECs are developing plans to offer green tariffs. FoE points out, however, that small independent companies may offer customers a better choice. The Renewable Energy Company, based at Stroud in Gloucestershire, was at the top of its league table with nine points out of 12.

"The freedom to choose between suppliers gives us all the power to insist that big companies improve their environmental performance. That's a tremendous weapon in the fight against global climate change," says FOE's Anna Stanford.