Liz Truss has ruled out launching an energy-saving public information campaign amid warnings the UK could face three-hour planned blackouts this winter.
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg is believed to have backed a £15 million campaign but the idea was reportedly blocked by No 10, according to The Times.
It said the campaign was seen as “light touch” and included measures designed to help households save up to £300 a year, including lowering the temperature of boilers, turning off radiators in empty rooms and advising people to turn off the heating when they go out.
A government source was quoted by The Times describing the campaign as a “no-brainer” and said Downing Street had made a “stupid decision”, but added that Ms Truss is said to be “ideologically opposed” to such an approach as it could be too interventionist.
Asked to comment on the report, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued a statement on behalf of the government in which it insisted ministers are not launching a campaign and “any claim otherwise is untrue”.
It comes as the Prime Minister earlier sought to downplay fears over the need for planned energy blackouts, saying the UK “can get through the winter” despite warnings that such blackouts could be needed for the first time in decades.
However, she stopped short of explicitly offering a guarantee of no blackouts, in response to concerns from the body that oversees Britain’s electricity grid.
Pressed to guarantee there will be no blackouts, Ms Truss told reporters during a visit to the Czech Republic: “What we’re clear about is that we do have a good supply of energy in the UK, we’re in a much better position than many other countries, but of course there’s always more we can do, and that’s why I’m here working with our partners, making sure we do have a secure energy supply into the future.”
She added: “We do have good energy supplies in the UK, we can get through the winter, but of course I am always looking for ways that we can improve the price for consumers.
“That’s why we put in place the energy price guarantee as well as making sure we have as much supply as possible.”
UK facing possible three-hour power outages
In what it called an “unlikely” scenario, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said that households and businesses may face planned three-hour outages during the winter to ensure the grid does not collapse.
Planned blackouts last hit the UK during the 1970s in response to the miners’ strikes and the oil crisis, and there have also been major unplanned outages during storms, including in 1987 when more than 1.5 million people were left in the dark.
But the lights will stay on this winter unless the gas-fired power plants that produced 43% of Britain’s electricity over the last year cannot get enough gas to continue operating.
The margins between peak demand and power supply are expected to be sufficient and similar to recent years in the National Grid ESO’s base case scenario for this winter.
However, in the face of the “challenging” winter facing European energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the grid operator is also planning for what would happen if there were no imports of electricity from Europe. To tackle a loss of imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there are two gigawatts of coal-fired power plants on standby to fire up if needed to meet demand.
National Grid Gas Transmission separately said that while gas demand will increase this winter, it expects Britain to be able to get enough gas to take it through a “Beast from the East” scenario or a long, cold winter.
The planned blackouts is the most dire of three possible scenarios that the ESO set out on Thursday for how Britain’s electricity grid might cope with the worst global energy crisis for decades.
In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes that by paying people to charge their electric cars at off-peak times, and firing up back-up coal plants, it can offset the risk of blackouts.
Ms Truss has previously said she would not be telling people to ration their energy use this winter, as Russian president Vladimir Putin limits gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for sanctions linked to the Ukraine war.
During the Conservative Party leadership contest, the Prime Minister also said there would be no energy rationing. She has since offered a multibillion-pound price guarantee which will prevent average annual household bills going past £2,500.
A Government spokesman said: “The UK has a secure and diverse energy system. We have plans to protect households and businesses in the full range of scenarios this winter, in light of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.
“To strengthen this position further, we have put plans in place to secure supply and National Grid, working alongside energy suppliers and Ofgem, will launch a voluntary service to reward users who reduce demand at peak times.
“We will continue to work internationally on tackling rising energy prices and ensuring security of supply, but there are no current plans to follow the EU’s decision.
“However, ministers are not launching a public information campaign and any claim otherwise is untrue.”