If the power industry wants to push ahead with the new infrastructure it needs for the future energy mix, it is going to have to start doing something that traditionally it has not been very good at – talking, and listening, to the public.

That was the message that came out of a panel debate hosted by the European Power Plant Suppliers Association in Brussels last night.

Jean-Arnold Vinois, acting director of the internal energy market at the European Commission, said: “We have to embark on a very great explanation to the public about energy to secure our energy supply for the future.”

He said there was a need for “change in the way that electricity is perceived by the consumer”. Speaking specifically about the rollout of smart meters and Smart Grids, he added: “If we want to have public acceptance we need to explain [our plan] to the public. After all, they are the electricity users.

“We need to give the citizen a sense of ownership of the energy debate,” he said, and added – in a clear reference to Germany’s decision to phase-out nuclear: “We should try to ensure a smooth transition and not ban something overnight… even though that has been done.”

Jan Willem Goudriaan, deputy general secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions, said it was “important to include a social dimension in the energy roadmap. We must have a dialogue with citizens.”

He also said that the cost of electricity to consumers needed to be “a just price and a regulated price” and added that “the state needs to have a firm hand on the electricity sector”.

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