Anyone wishing to understand the qualms some in the clean energy industry harbour over the government’s newly launched Energy Cost Review needs only look back to the first reporting of the idea back in January this year. It was a different era, in many ways a simpler time. The Conservatives had a majority in parliament and an even more commanding poll lead. The Brexiteers in government were brimming with confidence that the EU would soon cede to their demands. And in Number 10 co-chief of staff Nick Timothy was feared to be hatching a plan to water down a Climate Change Act he once described as an “act of monstrous self-harm”. Insiders feared arguments over energy bills were intended to act as a Trojan Horse for a wider push to slow down the pace of UK decarbonisation. Helm, whose office declined a request for an interview for this piece, is not quite the bogeyman he is painted to be by some green campaigners. His most recent book is sub titled the “end game for fossil fuels”, and one Whitehall source describes him as someone who “gets the smart system opportunity more than most and thinks EVs and batteries with solar is a massive opportunity”. E3G chairman Tom Burke notes, Helm comes with more than a little “baggage”. The Oxford academic has consistently argued for more investment in new gas capacity and has in the past written in the Spectator magazine that “current renewables like wind turbines, rooftop solar and biomass stand no serious chance of making much difference to decarbonisation. It’s simply a matter of scale”. Consequently, Burke is more than a little sceptical Helm can become the man who ends two decades of debate and sorts out “the facts from the myths about the cost of energy”. “When people say ‘I am going to sort out the facts from the myths’ they usually mean ‘I am going to replace your facts with my facts’,” says Burke. “It looks like an impossible task. He’s got to do it all in three months. There are an enormous number of people on all sides of the debate who have been working on this for a long time and they disagree [with him]. He will end up a punch bag from all sides no matter what he says.”
Business Green 8th Aug 2017 read more »
Carbon Brief runs through the review’s terms and the wider political context, as well as revisiting Prof Helm’s strongly held views on energy policy. The cost of energy is a long-running debate in the UK. Climate policy is adding increasing sums to electricity prices. Yet it has also helped to cut demand, more than offsetting the impact of policy on household bills. On average, households are spending a similar share of their incomes on energy as they were in 1990 and in 2010. Nevertheless, energy bills have continued to capture headlines, particularly after utility firms raised prices this year. Both major political parties went into the election promising to cap bills. The independent review of energy costs, led by Prof Dieter Helm and due to report back within less than three months, is more likely to provoke debate than it is to provide new answers. This could provide political cover for changes which the government would like to make anyway, but its independence also allows ministers to ignore its advice. After all, they have failed to follow many of Prof Helms’ prescriptions in the past.
Carbon Brief 8th Aug 2017 read more »