Energy companies have warned that some of the 30,000 UK households still without electricity since Storm Arwen hit at the weekend would remain without power until at least Friday.
High winds and snow across large parts of the country caused the most disruption in 16 years with 935,000 properties having had power restored as of 8am on Wednesday, including 15,000 in the previous 24-hour period.
Network operators are expected to pay out tens of millions of pounds in compensation. Each household is entitled to a £70 payment for each 12 hours without power, up to a maximum of £700.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, told the House of Commons that energy companies were working “incredibly hard” to reconnect those affected as quickly as possible. Asked if the disruption could continue until close to Christmas, he said: “I will do everything in my power to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
But some MPs expressed concerns about the hardship faced by thousands of households in one of the coldest weeks of the year. Areas hit hardest by the blackouts include Aberdeenshire and Perthshire in Scotland and the southern Lake District and Northumberland in England.
Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said many people in his constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, which includes part of the Lake District, felt “forgotten” by the authorities.
Ross Easton, director of the Energy Networks Association, the industry trade body, said 30,000 homes still off the grid were in “some of the worst hit and often remote areas of the country”. Easton said his expectation was that the “vast majority” of homes would be reconnected by Friday.
But executives warned privately that they were likely to miss that deadline for some pockets of customers. Back-up diesel generators could be used in some of those circumstances, said one.
The geographical spread and the number of people affected by the storm was on a scale not seen since 2005, the power companies said. Engineers were having to repair damage at 4,500 sites, according to the ENA. At one site alone, 100 poles had been snapped in half.
Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks said its engineers had reported “unprecedented damage” in the north-east of Scotland. It had identified 1,000 points of damage so far in the region. The previous high from a single weather event in the region was 150.
Kwarteng told MPs he hoped that the “majority” of those hit would see power restored “in the next day or two”. “I would like to thank them for their fortitude,” he said. He promised to “look at the lessons we can learn in order to build ever more resilient power systems in the future”.
Ed Miliband, shadow energy secretary, said many people had been left without proper information during the crisis with some waiting for two hours on phone lines at the weekend.
Kwarteng agreed this was unacceptable but said he had been reassured at a meeting with energy chief executives on Tuesday that waiting times had come down to 10 to 15 minutes.
Many MPs told stories of the deprivation faced by their constituents since power outages began at the start of the weekend, with one describing the official response as “lamentable”.