Renewables hope for fair hearing as UK launches cost review

The UK government has announced the launch of its independent review of energy costs, promising to sort the “facts from the myths” over generation and supply in a bid to reduce bills for consumers and businesses.

Renewables advocates hope the review will allow sources like onshore wind and PV to make their case as low-cost generators, despite being frozen out of UK support mechanisms for large-scale deployment.

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) said the process will span generation, transmission and distribution, and supply in the context of the need to meet climate targets.

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“It will look for opportunities to reduce costs in each element and consider the implications of the changing demand for electricity, including the role of innovative technologies such as electric vehicles, storage, robotics and artificial intelligence,” DBEIS said.

UK business and energy secretary Greg Clark added: “The review will consider how we can take advantage of changes to our power system and new technologies to ensure clean, secure and affordable supplies over the coming decades.”

But the review ran into controversy even before it was formally launched when it emerged that it will be led by Oxford University professor Dieter Helm, who has previously written that renewables such as wind turbines “stand no serious chance of making much difference to decarbonisation”.

In a statement confirming his appointment as chair of the review, Helm said: “My review will be independent and sort out the facts from the myths about the cost of energy, and make recommendations about how to more effectively achieve the overall objectives.”

Energy policy – or a lack of it – has become a political hot potato in the UK over the last 10 years, with controversies raging weekly over issues spanning excessive utility profits, the cost of the Hinkley Point nuclear project, renewables subsidies, and the impact of onshore wind turbines on the landscape.

The last of those became a major headache for the UK wind sector when the ruling Conservative Party made “ending subsidies” for new onshore wind farms a part of its election manifesto in 2015.

The sector hopes the review, which will report at the end of October this year, will highlight the advantages of onshore wind as a source that can rapidly advance large volumes of capacity and compete with new gas plants on cost-of-energy.