Electricity Prices – Government Report Blames Government

by ukcivilservant

Dieter Helm’s report, published today, blames excessive and wrong headed government intervention for high electricity prices.

The report is an economic and regulatory tour de force. It recommends that £100 billion of climate change costs should be isolated and charged outside regular energy bills, with industrial customers being exempt.  The agricultural sector and Ofgem should be reduced in size.

How will politicians react?  They should agree with everything that Professor Helm recommends. But that would mean taking brave decisions …

Here are key extracts from the report’s summary recommendations.

“This review has two main findings. The first is that the cost of energy is significantly higher than it needs to be to meet the government’s objectives and, in particular, to be consistent with the Climate Change Act (CCA) and to ensure security of supply. The second is that energy policy, regulation and market design are not fit for the purposes of the emerging low-carbon energy market, as it undergoes profound technical change.”

“The [£100 billion] legacy costs from the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), the feed-in tariffs (FiTs) and low carbon contracts for difference (CfDs) are a major contributor to rising final prices, and should be separated out, ring-fenced, and placed in a ‘legacy bank’. They should be charged separately and explicitly on customer bills. Industrial customers should be exempt. Once taken out of the market, the underlying prices should then be falling.”

“In electricity, the costs of decarbonisation are already estimated … to be around 20% of typical electricity bills. These legacy costs will amount to well over £100 billion by 2030. Much more decarbonisation [i.e the response to climate change] could have been achieved for less; costs should be lower, and they should be falling further.”

“Government has got into the business of ‘picking winners’. Unfortunately, losers are good at picking governments, and inevitably – as in most such picking winners strategies – the results end up being vulnerable to lobbying, to the general detriment of household and industrial customers.  … the government now determines the level and mix of generation to a degree not witnessed since these were determined by the nationalised industries …. Investment decision-making has been effectively quasi-renationalised.”

“The overwhelming focus on electricity rather than agriculture, buildings and transport has added to the cost. Agriculture in particular contributes 10% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the costs of reducing these emissions are much lower than many of the chosen options because the economic consequences of a loss of output in agriculture are small. Agriculture comprises just 0.7% GDP and at least half its output is uneconomic in the absence of subsidies. With the development of electric vehicles (EVs) it is apparent that transport can contribute more.”

“Ofgem’s role in regulation should be significantly reduced …”

“Not to implement these recommendations is likely to perpetuate the crisis mentality of the industry, and these crises are likely to get worse, challenging the security of supply, undermining the transition to electric transport, and weakening the delivery of the carbon budgets. It will continue the unnecessary high costs of the British energy system, and as a result perpetuate fuel poverty, weaken industrial competitiveness, and undermine public support for decarbonisation. We can, and should, do much better, and open up a period of falling prices as households and industry benefit from the great technological opportunities over the coming decades.”

Further background is in the Energy Regulation section of the Understanding Regulation website.

The full Helm Report is here.