Amid predictions of bitter cold and fuel shortages, the DTI has suggested to businesses they will not be penalised for using fuel oil or coal despite the fact both are ‘dirtier’ fuels than gas.

The problem stems from high gas prices as production from North Sea gas fields has fallen more rapidly than expected and the infrastructure for importing large volumes is still not in place.

This has led to many firms and factories opting for lower-tariff interruptible contracts, which offer cheaper gas but do not guarantee supply in times of high demand.

The DTI has been handing out the contact details of Environment Agency officers who can advise businesses how to go about switching fuel supplies at short notice and has indicated the agency is prepared to show a degree of flexibility.

The move has angered anti-pollution and climate change campaigners who say Government should be taking more steps to encourage fuel efficiency, rather than encouraging industry bosses to think environmental regulations are elastic and can be ignored in a crisis.

By Sam Bond

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