5 Live: The government has launched an independent review into the cost of energy, days after British Gas raised energy prices by twelve and a half percent. The study is being carried out by Oxford University professor Dieter Helm, and will look at how to meet climate change targets while keeping bills low. Tom Burke is the chairman of climate change think tank E3G, and a former government advisor, and joins us now. Thanks for joining us. So what is your reaction to this announcement?
Tom Burke: Well, it’s rather difficult to see, clever as I am sure Mr Helm is, what in three months, he is going to discover that we don’t already know. We are pretty clear about what we need to do if we want to combine those goals of keeping bills down and dealing with climate change, and that is invest a lot more in improving the overall energy efficiency of our buildings. And, the fact is, the government has been pretty weak at both putting in place the policies to do that, but also implementing the policies that is has already got. So, I’m really a bit puzzled about exactly what this is supposed to achieve, in an extremely short period of time.
5 Live: So, do you think it can have any ramifications for energy pricing going forwards?
Tom Burke: I doubt that it will tell us anything that we don’t already know. And it strikes me that this is a bit of a blame game going on, where the gas industry is blaming the government for its policies which are putting energy bills up, and the government is blaming the industry for not passing on the reductions in wholesale prices to customers. And actually, the reality is that we have got a massive amount of savings that are available out there, and if we did the right things and invested properly in infrastructure, we could make our bills go down permanently. So, I am a bit puzzled as to what, other than managing the headlines, this is really all about.
5 Live: So, what do you think the government should be doing?
Tom Burke: Well, what the government should really be doing is treating investment in the energy efficiency of our buildings as infrastructure, as part of the underlying infrastructure that we need to make the economy work effectively. And it needs to be investing in both making sure that all of the new homes that are built are zero carbon by around about 2020. It needs to make sure that people with very low incomes are given the ability to improve the energy efficiency of their homes right away with grant, essentially taking money out of the social service budget and putting it into investment in energy efficiency, to keep their bills down permanently. There are a whole array of other things that we have looked at over the years that could not only make our bills lower, but could make our climate better, and could also improve the efficiency of the economy. If you combine that with investing properly in renewables, then what you are offering consumers is the chance not only to get a lower bill through the front door, but possibly to also get a cheque through the front door as the sell electricity back to the grid.
5 Live: Couldn’t this all still happen once the review has been completed?
Tom Burke: I think it could happen, indeed the government announced a couple of weeks ago, a policy for smartening up the energy grid, that would take us in the right direction. I am just a bit puzzled as to what the added value will be, of doing this review instead of just getting on with it? Why carry out another study, when you know what to do and you can get on with it right away?
5 Live: Tom Burke, thank you very much.