Firstly, the timing. It came only days after the govt's own (and extremely lame) *Clean Growth Strategy*. In this, the government said everything was more or less on hold until Helm reported. Which he immediately did - WTF? What happened to planning grids etc? The fault lies entirely with govt, because Helm was only a bit early in delivering his stuff.
Secondly, Helm does not pull his punches.
the cost of energy is significantly higher than it needs to be ... not only an unnecessary burden on households and businesses, they also risk undermining the broader democratic support for decarbonisation ... Much more decarbonisation could have been achieved for less; costs should be lower, and they should be falling further.The current level of detailed, multiple, overlapping and costly interventions is the unintended consequence of a host of ad hoc policy interventions ... These interventions keep on growing, as one measure is layered onto another, increasing costs and inefficiencies. The interventions have been wide open to pervasive lobbying and capture, and the result has been significantly higher costs ... left alone it will get worse ... ever-greater complexity and growing costs ... the longer this is left the greater the impact on the cost of energy, and the more the decarbonisation process will be inhibited. The costs of energy are too high, and they should be going down ... The detailed mass of interventions is beyond the capacity of officials, regulators and companies to comprehend. Complexity encourages lobbying by vested interests in each intervention. Piecemeal reforms will almost certainly fail ... Incumbents often argue against change because they claim it creates uncertainty. In any regime with multiple subsidies and other interventions there are powerful vested interests in the status quo.Well, yes.
Trouble is, what government enjoys plain speaking? So they will be sorely tempted to ignore the whole thing, 69 detailed recommendations and all - particularly the ones that call for more transparency on the costs represented by subsidies by bundling them up in a 'bad-bank' account. What government enjoys transparency?
(I particularly like his proposal that renewables bid in on an "equivalent firm power" basis, meaning that intermittent sources are forced to confront the cost of their intermittency.)
This brings us, thirdly, to Prof Helm lui même. Yes, he sees a range of issues clearly, and speaks his mind. (This whole report is a stream-of-consciousness What-I-Think-by-D.Helm, straight off the top of the head without pausing for breath. He knew everything he wanted to say already, before he was commissioned.) Unfortunately, (a) that's not what government much likes - see above; and (b) what-he-thinks is often deeply suspect. For example: he rehearses his losing arguments in the great late 1990's debate on what should replace the old and very broken 'electricity Pool' system thus:
a well-functioning wholesale market ... is best achieved through compulsion, and indeed this is what happened in the original electricity Pool ... This model was jettisoned for two reasons, neither of which was convincing at the time. The first was the Austrian argument that compulsion was a ‘bad thing’, and that as the electricity industry moved towards a normal commodity market, the participants should be free to choose the most efficient trading arrangements ...Yes, they should. Writing as someone who was on the winning ('Austrian') side of that debate at the time (and helped implement those wicked bilateral markets that supplanted the Pool), it's a pity Professor 'Compulsion' Helm has just fretted for nearly two decades on his loss of that argument. These people never go away, they just wait for the opportunity to wind back the clock, as we are finding out in spades from John McDonnell & crew.
So - we watch and wait. "Much more decarbonisation could have been achieved for less; costs should be lower, and they should be falling further" - the government should not be allowed to dodge that.