Those of us in Sri Lanka having never seen a coalmine, but most often have canaries as pets in our homes, may wonder what understanding of the real meaning of this English idiom, has to connect with the energy. But we also know an idiom is a group of words, which together assume new and different meanings, in the spoken word.
Native speakers use idioms in everyday conversation, but the idiosyncrasy is when Brits use idioms to impress foreigners. It is as a technique to show their superiority. But, when Sri Lankans use quotations to impress foreigners of our mastery of the English language, we sometimes show our literary incompetence, but more often our lack of historical perspective.
“Canaries in a coalmine” is an idiom especially apt today because coal is a fossil fuel which when burned, produces greenhouse gases, contributing to Earth’s warming. Thus its connection to what we call “climate change”.
In simple language, this idiom refers to someone or something that is an early warning of danger.
The talk of the town today in England, in fact in UK and in Europe, is how much we are unprepared of the fuel price inflation, which now fuels inflation. Everyone connects it with Russia and the Ukrainian war. But we hardly understand how it is associated to the greed of the multinational energy suppliers who used energy prices, to boost their shares and in turn provide lucrative dividends to their shareholders.
From what we can make out, it has been coming for years, well beyond the pandemic. We saw small energy companies mushroom in this energy supply market, offering customers cheap energy, over the years.
Small energy providers, some from US, and dozens from UK and Europe did spring up boosted in the 1990s when the UK Government relaxed the rules around energy supply to consumers. We were told to shop around for cheap energy.
Over the past year, however, many of these very small suppliers hit the buffers and went bust. Customers were moved to larger more dependable sources/suppliers. When the larger suppliers, the likes of EDF Energy of France, and say Shell Energy, managed to cream off the market price for their existing customers, well in advance, the problem started.
What they were not planning to cope with was the huge increase in the number of customer households, thus causing them to buy additional energy, to cope with demand at much higher prices than the prevailing market price.
This caused an increased cost of buying energy for thousands, if not millions of new customers at wholesale prices. What these larger energy providers added a new ingredient, a fixed amount called a Daily Standing Charge? This fixed charge was irrespective of the amount of energy used by households.
This was a bonus to suppliers/providers of Energy, both gas and electricity. This was unfair especially to customers with low usage. People on the one hand were warned to conserve energy, with all the noise of “climate change”. Simultaneously customers who acted to save energy by lowering their usage were clobbered with new and additional charges.
Fleecing the poor
Ofgem, the independent UK’s National Regulatory Authority regulated the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks, acting in the interests of the consumers, as well as helping the industries to achieve environmental improvements. Its role was to protect consumers by working to deliver a greener, fairer energy system.
Ofgem became jittery of the balance between the interests of customers and the interests of the mighty, near monopolistic energy providers.
The Energy Ombudsman was an independent organisation, appointed by Ofgem to investigate consumer complaints and facilitate compliance of energy supplies. This was the recourse available for hard-hit customers?
Cause of energy inflation
One of the real causes for energy bills going through the roof this winter is the lack of foresight on the part of the Energy Suppliers and the Government. October 2022, is the date the existing “price cap” is removed. No one will now admit that this winter’s fuel bills will make for fuel poverty – the poor, much poorer.