Lights out? UK’s cannabis farms could be left in the dark

Life is about to get much harder for Britain's cannabis farmers, as Ofgem takes steps to force electricity suppliers to take action on stolen electricity.

The watchdog says electricity theft costs around £200 million a year, adding around £7 a year to each electricity consumer's bill.

An estimated one-third of stolen electricity is used to power cannabis farms. Their reliance on artificial light to replace that of the sun sees them use 40 times more electricity than ordinary homes.

Ofgem is proposing to make electricity suppliers set up a national theft risk assessment service, which would help them target properties where there is a strong chance that electricity is being stolen.

An industry code of best practice would also be set up to help firms adopt a consistent approach.

"Ofgem wants to make sure that consumers are paying no more than they need to for their electricity, and lives are not put at risk," chief executive Andrew Wright said.

"It's critical that suppliers do all they can to clamp down on electricity theft. This is why Ofgem is introducing new rules to encourage better theft detection."

It wants suppliers to set up a 24-hour hotline which customers could use to report electricity thefts.

The proposals are now being consulted on and would come into force in 2015.

"Ofgem's consultation is a positive move to cut down crime, and we look forward to working closely with them, and others in the industry, on this," a spokesman for Energy UK, the industry's trade association, said.

"Electricity theft is dangerous and illegal. Contact with live electricity cables can kill and tampered meters cause fires. Electricity theft also costs honest customers money which is why energy companies take this – and gas theft – very seriously."