10 July, 2023
CityAM, by Sam Richards
Chris O’Shea may not be a household name. Normal people don’t keep a running list of CEOs, chairs, and fund managers in their heads.
But as the boss of one of the Big Six energy companies in the UK, what the chief executive of Centrica says matters for families struggling to make ends meet.
His comments that he expects household energy bills to remain high for the foreseeable future were a blow for millions of people already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
With wholesale market prices still two and a half times the long run average, the pain families are feeling is set to continue with eye-wateringly high energy bills.
The real tragedy is it doesn’t have to be this way. Sky-high energy bills are not inevitable.
We don’t have to accept household energy bills of over £2,000.
The solution is to get spades in the ground as quickly as possible and get building the clean secure domestic energy infrastructure Britain needs.
To address this we need fundamental reform of our outdated planning system, which is holding Britain back from being a clean energy superpower.
We should start by freeing developers from burdensome environmental impact assessments in areas of low environmental importance.
Why does it take up to 13 years for a new offshore wind farm to go from idea to generating power, despite construction taking just two to three years?
The East Anglia Two offshore wind farm gives us an insight. Just 20 miles off the Suffolk coast, East Anglia Two will be made up of 75 turbines that will generate enough clean energy to power 800,000 homes. The environmental impact assessment alone ran just under 11,000 pages.
And it’s even worse when it comes to nuclear. The 2020 planning application for Sizewell C contains over 4,000 documents, with the environmental statement stretching to 44,260 pages – almost 13,000 pages longer than Hinkley Point C’s.
Small modular reactors could be a game changer, we could have fleets of these mini nuclear power stations, that are about the size of two football pitches, dotted across the country. But if they get caught up in the kind of regulations needed for their bigger cousins, we can kiss goodbye to them ever taking off in the UK.
Fast-tracking clean energy developments in areas of low environmental importance is not a revolutionary idea, Spain already does it and it will be rolled out across the rest of the EU shortly.
In short, to get Britain building, we need to cut the red tape that is holding us back.
While some people may argue that it will take too long to change planning and environmental regulations to have a real impact on energy bills in the short term, there are some low hanging fruit that could make a real difference now.
Top of the list is dropping the senseless ban on new onshore wind farms in England.
Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of energy available to us and it is overwhelmingly backed by the majority of people. Ending the ban and unleashing a tsunami of clean electricity across the country is a no-brainer.
If reports at the weekend are true and the prime minister is contemplating delaying ending the ban on onshore wind until after the next election, he will be condemning millions of people to higher energy bills for purely political reasons while they are already struggling with day-to-day costs.
High energy bills are not inevitable, Britain can have cheap and reliable energy for decades to come, without been reliant on volatile international gas markets, but we need to get building clean energy right now.