By Alan Miller, CCgroup
“Wind farms to increase energy bills by £178 a year,” thundered The Telegraph on the 22nd November. “Electricity bills to rise by £100-a-year to help pay for more wind farms,” cried the Daily Mail on the same day. “Homeowners and business asked to pay around £7.6bn a year towards the cost of building “greener” power stations by 2020,” exclaimed The Daily Express the next day. The outrage was palpable, the comments under the articles predictable.
Except, of course, it wasn’t quite true, as the reports failed to clarify that the actual annual cost is, according to OfGem, around £20 rising to £100 in 2020. You can’t blame papers for acting in the interests of their readers, trying to protect them against policy that would lead to increased living costs.
But if consumer protection was their motive, then today was the day to prove it. The government has warned that bills would be higher by £600 per year by 2020 if renewable energy is ignored in favour of gas. Yes, relying on fossil fuels has been confirmed as six times more expensive than renewable energy. Even if we change the ‘type’ of fossil fuel we’re going after.
In fact, the main driver for renewable energy investment is long term energy and price security – not pure ‘environmentalism’ as much of the broadsheets would call it. Setting aside the other benefits of clean energy, the government’s Climate Change Committee has a simple message: if we rely on gas, the average household we will end up paying much more (oh, and could see earthquakes, contaminated water supply and more adverse health and environmental impacts). Yes, even if you hold shares in Gas. Oh, shares vs. long term costs to society. What a pickle.
The Guardian has reported the Climate Change Committee’s findings on the potential for price hikes, as has the Independent and Financial Times. But the newspapers so keen to damn renewables last month are oddly quiet on the issue, instead leading with scare stories and other regular tabloid tropes. The government is warning of increased bills, which will directly affect the household budgets of these newspapers’ readers, to no outrage whatsoever.
Our recent research confirms that the national media is skewed against the renewables industry, neglecting the voice of the sector and out of sync with wider public opinion. We found that only 21% of national newspaper articles are positive about the renewable energy industry. Today confirms that the most read UK press is not simply guilty of reporting on the renewables industry in a negative way. It is also failing to report on stories that don’t fit with its narrative on renewables, ignoring the positive as well as accentuating the negative. But this is also a failure of the renewables industry – as well as telling stories of innovation and growth, it needs to highlight the positive effect it will have where people understand it best: in their wallets.
If renewable energy companies stand up and get communicating, together we can fix energy reporting.