ITV must show BBC the way on accurate green reporting

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  • Last updated: Thursday, 9 February 2012 at 6:03 pm

119594531 300x264 ITV must show BBC the way on accurate green reportingEnergy prices are a hot topic. Rises of up to 19% last year were the main driver of the high inflation that left many families complaining about squeezed living standards. These rises followed an increase in the average bill from £605 in 2004 to £1060 in 2010. Given these astronomical increases, it is no surprise that energy prices are the subject of intense public, media and political interest.

This evening’s edition of ITN Tonight will look at the impact of renewable energy policies on consumers’ bills. In this highly contentious area of debate, the media have a responsibility to provide accurate and balanced coverage. Recent newspaper headlines have claimed that policies to support renewable technologies are a major burden on our energy bills. The numbers quoted have varied widely from report to report but it has been comprehensively shown that recent bill increases are due to rises in the wholesale cost of gas and not  renewable policies. The Committee on Climate Change has calculated that of the £455 increase to the average bill that occurred between 2004 and 2010 £290 was due to rises in the wholesale costs of gas compared with £30 due to investments in low carbon power generation.

A recent edition of Panorama on energy prices, which focused mainly on the costs of wind power, was widely criticised for failing to note the importance of increases in wholesale gas costs. The BBC has since issued a clarification acknowledging that they should have been clearer on this issue. On areas of high public interest, such as energy prices and climate change, broadcasters have a particular responsibility to provide accurate and balanced coverage.

Putting aside the short term political interest in energy prices, it is important that the debate about the costs of renewable energy are conducted in the context of other fuel costs. Gas would be the most likely alternative and does have a vital role to play in the UK’s energy mix but its future price is far from certain. Gas prices have slumped dramatically in the US due to the discovery of large shale gas reserves but evidence suggests that this is unlikely to impact significantly on costs in the UK.As renewable energy can be generated in the UK it offers consumers some insulation from fluctuating prices on global energy markets whereas a greater reliance on gaswould leave consumers more vulnerable to variations. Regardless, a greater role for gas in the UK’s future energy mix than currently envisaged has not been demonstrated as compatible with our legally binding target to reduce carbon emissions by 2050.

Decisions about our energy mix also have implications for Britain’s future prosperity. A global race for clean energy markets is now underway with the major emerging economies like China, India and Brazil piling investment into technologies such as solar and wind. There are major growth opportunities here for the UK, particularly in off-shore wind where the UK is widely perceived to be the global leader. However, advocates of renewables need better evidence to demonstrate the value of these markets and that the UK can win and prosper from them.

The reality for consumers is that regardless of our energy mix, prices are likely to remain high. Ways must be found to limit bills with forthcoming research by the IPPR showing that if anti-competitive pricing behaviour by the Big 6 energy companies is tackled, it will be easier for new entrants to enter the market. This would result in prices potentially falling for all consumers.

ITN Tonight’s programme on energy bills will find a large and interested audience on this controversial issue. There are many conflicting claims on the cost of renewable policies and broadcasters have a responsibility to provide accurate and balanced coverage. Most importantly it must be made clear that the wholesale costs of gas and not renewable policies are the cause of our high energy bills.

Reg Platt is a Research Fellow at IPPR. Follow him on twitter @regplatt

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  • ShaleGasExpert

    The simple answer is transparency.  A half way intelligent business gas and electricity customer can get an exact breakdown of how much National Grid and the local distribution company are charging his supplier along with daily updates of wholesale gas prices for that day.

    Domestic customers are not provided this information and told it is confidential.  What happens is that green costs are over estimated by climate change deniers, or hidden by good news messenger shooting greens who aren’t well served by transparency either.

    The best thing to do is to force it on both of them.  Reality not emotion.

  • greggf

    “….£455 increase to the average bill that occurred between 2004 and 2010 £290 was due to rises in the wholesale costs of gas compared with £30 due to investments in low carbon power generation.”

    Of that £290 how much was due to sterling’s devaluation against the US$? 
    25% of £290 or £72?
    Perhaps the media broadcasters should mention that too since they ”have a responsibility to provide accurate and balanced coverage”.

  • Pacificweather

    The BBC was wrong to ignore increases in wholesales gas prices. Every wind turbine comes with a requirement for a back up of gas fired generation. When it is very cold and the wind is not blowing – typical winter – or when it blows too hard and the gear box cannot maintain 50 Hz output then the gas fired generators are turned on to compensate. So gas prices are an important factor in wind generation.

    Then there are the renewables – the gear boxes every few years, and the non renewables – miles of heavy copper cables. Don’t forget the subsidies.

    Waves can provide base load power without copper cables to shore and without gear boxes to mend. Submersible energy converters don’t spoil the view and encourage marine life and improve fish stocks. Even when the sea looks calm the waves are still coming in, you can see them break even on a calm day. So why so much investment in wind and so little in waves. You tell me.

  • Pacificweather

    The BBC was, however, accurate in reporting that Photovoltaic Panels can only be economic producers of electricity (without subsidy) in lower latitudes – southern France and Spain. So why is the government subsidising them? You tell me.

  • Reg Platt IPPR

    Nick – agree transparency a problem. we’re trying to tackle this with our new report.

    greggf – recent sterling devaluation due to financial crisis from 2008. these figures go back to 2004. irrespective – if you domestic renewable supplies currency devaluation etc. would be less important

    pacificweeather – we’re kicking off a new report now on the technical costs of wind. a lot of the costs of intermittency we think are regularly overestimated. gas comes with a lot of its own ongoing costs as well. on solar – if we knew full costs of nuclear subsidies we could make a better judgement on cost of effectiveness of these subsidies. As it is they look too expensive.


  • corporeal4now

    Wind energy increases in autumn and winter, this just happens to be the time when we the consumers need more electrical energy.

  • Pacificweather

    Not in Exeter. It is June, July and August with winter at about 50% of that. (Met Office Data) but I am sure it must be true somewhere. Any suggestions?

  • Pacificweather

    Reg: I would like to see a report on wave power using submersed bouy and pumped sea water technology vs offshore wind.

    Are there any studies of ocean thermal transfer (heat pump) technology?

    There is no point in comparing nuclear to anything, it’s way off the chart because of the life cycle costs. It’s strategic not commercial. Don’t waste your time.

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