The chief executive of the energy company putting up its prices by up to 10% has said the rise would be “helpful” if it focused the nation on its spending priorities.
SSE’s Alistair Phillips-Davies called for a debate on the “green agenda” he claims will lead to more bill hikes in the future.
Labour denounced the company after it sparked fury by announcing rises that will add £106 to its typical dual-fuel customer bill – pushing it up to £1,380 a year.
But SSE said bills would fall by £110 per household overnight if the Government covered green energy subsidies and the cost of other schemes, such as free loft insulation, through the tax system.
Mr Phillips-Davies, writing in a newspaper today, said: “A price rise is never a good thing to do, but if it focuses everyone on to a debate about what we as a nation should be spending money on, then in one way it will be helpful.
“We need to think about what people really want to pay for; maybe it’s time to retreat from decarbonisation and focus more on the cost of living. I think we have to have a debate about it.
“Do we want to be replacing one bit of (energy) generation that we can keep going for a bit longer with a new bit of generation that’s going to cost more?”
He added: “I doubt the public like price increases of this magnitude, but if we carry on firmly behind the green agenda we will continue to have price increases like this.”
SSE’s decision to hike bills is expected to trigger a series of increases by the other Big Six energy suppliers – Centrica, EDF, Scottish Power, E.ON and npower.
The company said wholesale energy prices were up 4%, paying to use newly upgraded networks by 10% and Government-imposed levies up 13%.
Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted the suppliers were “ripping people off“ and said the increases – which will take effect on November 15 and affect an estimated 7.3 million customers – reinforced the need for a 20-month freeze on energy prices.
Martin Lewis, of the Moneysavingexpert website, said the price hike would mean many people this winter will have to choose “between heating and eating”.
SSE’s price hike will see an average increase of 8.2%, three times the rate of inflation, affecting 4.4 million household electricity customers and 2.9 million gas users. It has around 9.5 million customer accounts, many of which are on fixed-price tariffs.
Regional variations mean rises will range from 7% in northern England and parts of Scotland to 9.7% in the South East. They will be higher for those who use a high proportion of cheaper energy at off-peak times.
SSE, which trades as Southern Electric, Swalec and Scottish Hydro, said the rise would come into effect from November 15, and it pledged not to lift them again for a year.