A five-strong advisory panel assisting Dieter Helm with a UK government-commissioned review into energy costs will only have time to meet a handful of times because of a tight deadline. One member of the panel said participants had little idea of what the structure of these meetings would be, or how they were expected to contribute to the final report. The review’s stated objective is to “reduce costs in each element and consider the implications of the changing demand of electricity, including the role of innovative technologies such as electric vehicles, storage robotics and artificial intelligence”. But such claims contrast starkly with the nature of the review reported by insiders. Observers have also questioned whether Prof Helm, an economist at Oxford university, and his team can fulfil such a wide-ranging agenda given its staffing and the limited time the government has allotted to the task. The report is due to be delivered by the end of October, and Prof Helm has been paid for only 30 days’ work. “A review by one man backed by an unpaid challenge panel and operating against a rushed timetable seems a way of simply finding out what Dieter Helm thinks,” said Doug Parr of Greenpeace. “It is unambitious compared to the review we were expecting.” Helm has a reputation as a vocal sceptic of nuclear and renewable energy technologies on grounds of their cost and economics, although he is thought to have moderated his views. He is backed by a panel including Terry Scuoler, head of the manufacturing organisation EEF, Richard Nourse, managing partner of Greencoat Capital, an investor in renewable technologies, and Laura Sandys, the former MP. Ms Sandys has argued that the parliamentary pension fund should disinvest from fossil fuels. Mr Parr of Greenpeace questioned why there was no consumer representative on the panel, given the involvement of Mr Scuoler as an apparent industry advocate, and the fact that the review was supposed to consider both household and industrial costs. The government has mandated that the review should consider only “system issues” and should not comment on the status of individual projects. Critics have queried the sense of this, given the technological choices the UK faces over pursuing a new nuclear fleet or enlarging the renewables sector. “How you can consider the cost issues facing UK energy without looking at the £20bn Hinkley Point reactor project defeats me,” said an energy consultant. “We didn’t want Prof Helm to spend two months simply arguing against the Hinkley project as that doesn’t meet the task in hand,” said a government spokesperson for BEIS, the business department.
FT 14th Aug 2017 read more »