Fifty Greenpeace campaigners managed this morning to shut down the headquarters of energy company Centrica, owner of British Gas, to protest about rising energy prices and Britain's over-dependence on gas.
They managed to blockade the private road leading to its headquarters in Windsor, forcing senior management to travel to alternative offices in Staines.
The entrances were sealed with images of large bills which explain the reason for the action.
Greenpeace had obtained government briefing documents under the Freedom of Information Act which detail the company's attempts to secure future gas supply deals and their projections that the supply of gas will reduce over the years with consequent price rises.
"Centrica judges that by 2013-2014 they expect the global over-supply of gas to disappear," says the document.
In combination with the fact that the company has been lobbying ministers that the future needs of the country are better served by more gas-fired generation plant with a low emissions performance standard set until 2045, the environmental charity is calling for the company instead to make greater investments in renewable energy to protect UK energy security and reduce future greenhouse gas emissions.
DECC’s proposed 450g/kWh-based emissions limit for gas generation is part of a liberal new emissions performance standard (EPS).
Greenpeace cites a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that compares the investment by all Big Six energy companies in renewable energy, putting Centrica at the bottom of the list.
Centrica is making some investment in offshore wind, however, and hopes to have installed 650MW of generation capacity by the end of the year.
Centrica's attempts to secure a long-term gas supply that are detailed in the documents obtained included offering Qatar a stake in its business and a seat on its board in return for a 20-year guaranteed supply of LNG at 4 million tonnes per year, worth up to £30 billion.
The revelation comes from an official briefing paper written for Charles Hendry, energy minister, ahead of a meeting with Centrica chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, on February 14 last year.
In the event, Centrica signed only a £2 billion deal with Qatargas for 2.4 million tonnes of LNG per year over a three-year period. Qatar is the world's biggest exporter of LNG.
The revelations in the documents were labelled “tremendously embarrassing” for Centrica by John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director.
”They haven’t been able to secure the long-term deal that they wanted, which leaves Britain’s biggest domestic gas supplier exposed to increasingly volatile gas prices,” he said.
“As the major UK utility with the least renewable energy capacity, it must be time for them to drop their over-reliance on gas, and instead invest in clean energy technologies.”
Five campaigners entered the sealed building, made their way to the office of CEO Sam Laidlaw and proceeded to cover the walls with wallpaper printed with energy bills. They used a method to ensure that the wallpaper can be easily removed with little damage.
Laidlaw has been criticised recently for accepting a multi-million pound pay and bonus package while consumers’ energy bills continued rising and been facing allegations of using a tax avoidance scheme.
Lawrence Carter, a Greenpeace campaigner said from inside the HQ: “Centrica have got to get off gas. The average energy bill has risen by £150 in the last year, and £100 of that is due solely to the rocketing price of gas.
“If Centrica instead invested in clean, cutting-edge renewable energy and energy efficiency, they would help to both bring household bills under control and to tackle climate change.”
The energy bill plastered over the offices makes the claim that only £20 of the increase in an average dual fuel household bill over the last 8 years has been due to investment in large-scale renewables.
The figure is based on analysis of receipts by Ofgem from Renewable Obligation Certificates, which in 2004 accounted for 1% is over £595 average bill and in March 2012 accounted for just 1.9%, or £25, of an average £1,325 bill.
44% of the UK's generation capacity is currently accounted for by gas. Since 2006, 21,360 MW of new capacity has been consented.
DECC’s latest emissions projections (UEP) show that a further 4.7GW will be added up to 2020.
A spokeswoman for Hendry at DECC said: "Qatar is an important supplier of gas to Great Britain, providing around 15% of our gas last winter.
"However, Qatari LNG is only one of a number of gas sources and routes available to the UK. Others include production from the UK Continental Shelf, imports from Norway and from the Continent, LNG from other sources and gas storage.”
Centrica has £50 billion worth of contracts in place for future gas supplies, and has not issued a comment on today's action so far.
Story: David Thorpe, News Editor