My interest in Energy issues tempted me to watch this week’s episode of BBC’s Panorama: “What is really fuelling energy bills in Britain?” – and unfortunately I was in for a shock.
There are two answers to the question in the title of the programme depending on your politics i.e the rise in energy bills is due to the rapidly rising wholesale costs of oil and gas or to the massive profits being made by the six big energy companies. Most likely the reason is a combination of the two. Coming in well behind these is the cost of developing low carbon energy sources. However, if you watched the programme (which confusingly mixes the future with the present) you would get the impression that the family collecting timber from their local forest for heating (yes I’m not kidding) were doing so because of the adverse affect of wind turbines on their energy bills. The sources of information were an unpublished and unverifiable report from the accountants KPMG, some unsubstantiated figures from a self proclaimed expert with an unmentioned political agenda and some more dodgy figures from USwitch.
There has been criticism of the programme in the Guardian and, Tom Heap, the programme’s narrator, has responded to those criticisms but, in my opinion, Tom is not convincing. I fail to see how anyone, whatever their point of view can come away from the programme thinking that it was anything other then one sided. Worse, it did not push the debate forward because of the sparsity of any useful and validated facts and figures.
There is a real debate to be had about how our energy needs are to be met. I am having difficulty getting my head around the complexity of the issue and the wealth of propaganda from a variety of sources does not help. The need for the debate is urgent if we are to meet our future energy requirements. The great thing about this debate is that we are in a position t0 argue on the basis of facts and figures. There will always be those who will ignore or cherry pick the facts or simply make up their own facts to fit their -preconceived ideas. But for those of us who want the discussion to be based on reasoned, rational, evidence based debate we need programmes like Panorama to consist of high quality investigate journalism where the aim is to get as far as possible to the facts of the argument. It is essential that self proclaimed ‘experts’ with a hidden political agenda are not allowed to present their facts and figures without any attempt by the makers of the programme to validate those figures or to check their provenance or authenticity.
A big black mark to the BBC and Tom Heap and a missed opportunity to bring some light to the debate.
Below I have given some further sources of information which I hope will address the lack of balance but the issue is so big and complex that they only really demonstrate the bias of the Panorama programme. A great deal more research is needed – I hope to return to this subject.
Update 2: BBC Admits it got it wrong: Clarification: What’s Fuelling Your Energy Bill?
This is the programme: What is really fuelling energy bills in Britain? http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9631000/9631864.stm
This is Damian Carrington’s Criticism of the programme: The vast, shocking hole in Panorama’s analysis of rising energy bills: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/nov/08/energy-bills-panorama-renewables
This is Tom Heaps reply: Energy Bills: the Guardians big green blind spot: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/09/energy-bills-panorama?newsfeed=true
Looking into Panorama’s sources: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/looking-into-panoramas-sources
Huhne: Wind turbines are here to stay: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2123863/huhne-wind-turbines-stay
Why are energy prices rising (OFGEM): http://www.ofgem.gov.uk/Media/FactSheets/Documents1/Why%20are%20energy%20prices%20rising_factsheet_108.pdf
Let’s end the tyranny of the six big energy companies: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/10/friends-of-the-earth-time-to-end-tyranny-of-big-six-energy-companies/
EDF found guilty of spying on Greenpeace: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/10/edf-spying-greenpeace