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Cornwall Insight calls for industry reform to fix energy crisis

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Gareth Miller, CEO of Cornwall Insight, has criticised policy makers for concentrating on quick fixes to the energy crisis, arguing that industry reform is needed.

In an op-ed, Miller described that the short-term solutions to rising energy prices is risking the long-term sustainability of the energy sector, while simultaneously leaving the public vulnerable to increasing costs. He argues that current solutions, including the Default Tariff Cap, only attempt to deal with failings in the existing energy market design, and, at best, delay risks and costs or at worst they increase them. 

Many in the UK Government are worried about the rapidly rising costs facing households, but Miller argues little is being done about it. He notes that to future proof the sector, safeguard against continual consumer price hikes and protect the wider economy there are three areas that should be examined as a long-term response to the crisis. 

Those three areas are: 

  • Reforming the wholesale markets so they will better respond to volatile gas driven balancing costs as we move away from fossil fuels
  • Developing a better understanding of the changing inter-relationship of wholesale prices with consumer costs, and determining the fairest route for recovery of costs over time
  • A concerted communication exercise that explains to the public the muti-generational return on investment that underpins net zero,

In the op-ed, Miller says that these three areas should be addressed in further detailed policy work framed around what are nationally significant objectives. This includes adopting a sustainable approach to achieving net zero, maintaining commitments and our reputation for stable, competitive markets; and creating justifiable and equitable financial impacts on households and businesses in the long run.

Gareth Miller, Chief Executive Officer at Cornwall Insight, noted, “The current energy crisis is of economy wide concern, having a potential impact on business competitiveness, general inflation, and household affordability. It is vital that the magnitude and speed of actions match the scale of risk faced by the economy from the current situation, and that attentions turn away from quick fixes, and instead focus on large-scale reform of the energy system.

“It is not helpful for the UK Government to keep pointing to the Default Tariff Cap when pressed on what action it is taking. The cap will not protect consumers from increases in gas and power prices in the long run. Certainly, the cap has delayed the burden of these costs to consumers, but they will face them anyway as the default tariff cap rises in a lag to the rise in gas and power prices. We must also remember that the default tariff represents the regulator’s view of a ‘fair’ price for energy. So, if it is rising, this suggests the regulator thinks that an appropriate response is for suppliers to be able to charge this rate to consumers. If the costs of supply are rising but deemed fair, but the impacts on households will create hardship, this cannot conceivably be dealt with through the energy bill or market mechanisms. At that stage, the government should attempt to alleviate pressure on vulnerable households through the tax and welfare system.

“In any event, to avoid repeats of these issues in the coming years, we need to look again at how wholesale markets price energy, as the current system was designed for a different supply mix. We need to reconsider our strategy for buying and storing gas, and the balance between importing from abroad and the benefits of using our own resources. Particularly as where we get gas from is irrelevant so long as we stick to a declining usage as we move to net zero. We also need to look again at the type of low carbon technology mix that minimises exposure to volatile international fossil fuel prices, and how we encourage a lot more energy efficiency and demand reduction.”

“These activities are by no means easy and will require upfront investment on top of levies and costs already being paid by consumers. It is essential that the government is open and honest with the electorate, about the profile of costs but also the accumulation of benefits of net zero. There should be some acceptance of what is controllable and what isn’t, and what are the uncertainties that may change the trajectory as we make progress. Surveys and polls say time and again that people buy into the big benefits of decarbonisation, and see it as a really important issue. But a lack of transparency on the return on investment for households, communities and the national economy may begin to put that support under pressure.

“None of this is politically easy, and of course the immediate focus is on the real crisis about to impact households in the here and now. However, we urgently also need to look to long-term reforms if we are to avoid lurching from winter crisis to winter crisis in the years to come.”

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