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UK faces winter fuel crisis unless gas supply is improved, warns ICE

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SECURING A better flow of gas into the UK through the crosschannel pipeline is urgently needed if a winter gas crisis is to be avoided, the ICE's State of the Nation report warned this week.

According to the report, the pipeline is under used because of the 'incompatibility' of the UK and European gas trading markets. Tackling this is a bigger priority in the short term than upgrading the country's gas infrastructure, says the report.

Last winter the cross-channel interconnector was running at well below full capacity, yet a critical gas shortage in the UK caused prices to soar. This means that new and planned gas infrastructure, such as the Langeled pipeline from Norway, would not automatically equate to security of supply, warned ICE Energy Board vice-chairman Anthony Price.

'The UK is exposed to greater political risk than has previously been acknowledged, ' he said.

'Capability isn't the same as delivery. Last winter, when there was very high demand in Britain, there was very little gas coming through the interconnector.' Managing director of Heren Energy Patrick Heren said: 'We are supposed to have a free market for energy in Europe but it isn't really free at the moment.

When we challenged the monopolies in Europe they all said 'that's the way we operate'.' A Department of Trade & Industry spokesman said that energy minister Malcolm Wicks recently met Belgium energy minister Marc Verwilghen to discuss improving the ow of gas through the interconnector this winter.

He added that the president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Baroso had warned EU countries that the Commission was ready to take action to force EU markets to re-regulate their gas markets to ensure free movement of gas around the EU.

The ICE graded the state of the UK's energy infrastructure D+ and warned that things could get worse in the future unless more commercial incentives were laid down for operators to build more power generation plants.

It also called on the government to speed up the introduction of simpler planning and regulatory processes for new energy projects, especially for new nuclear power stations.

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