Investigations
License: All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace

FOIs reveal British Gas role in energy policy

Damian Kahya
Damian Kahya is the Energydesk editor
License: All rights reserved. Credit: Damian Kahya

A former lobbyist for British Gas owner Centrica is on an unpaid secondment helping formulate energy policy at the Department for Energy and Climate change, according to FOI’s obtained by Greenpeace Energydesk and reported in The Guardian.

The FOI’s also show that the person responsible for drawing up the government’s capacity market - which could provide millions of pounds worth of support to gas plants - comes from a firm investing in new gas power stations in the UK.

A Shell employee is also currently on secondment as a policy advisor on energy security. Shell is one of the UK's largest gas importers.

See also and read the documents

DECC’s current “Head of Grid Management Strategy” is not paid by the department but is - instead - on secondment from Centrica.

The department’s “Head of Capacity Market Design”  comes from ESB, an Irish firm which already runs three gas plants in the UK and has recently closed a deal to build a new gas fired power plant in Carrington, near Manchester. 

The 'Capacity market' reforms are widely expected to result in payments to gas firms funded through a new levy consumer bills. 

Lobbying roles

Prior to their secondment the Centrica employee "led a number … of political lobbying campaigns" and was "responsible for managing the impacts of industry and regulatory change for [Centrica Energy]", according to their LinkedIn profile.

Centrica described the secondment as "perfectly normal practice." The employee is not being paid by DECC.

The secondee from Irish firm ESB was also previously a regulation executive. The firm reportedly said their employee had been interviewed by DECC and that "due care and attention was given to any perceived conflict of interest and it was confirmed that none existed."

The secondments come at a crucial time, with the potential to shape government’s energy reforms and the future development of the national grid, including the charges paid by generators - such as Centrica - to use it.

Centrica is lobbying for payments to fossil fuel plants even when they are not running in order to ensure they can be available to the network on standby.The idea is opposed by some other energy executives as inefficient. The government wants stand-by capacity to deal with peaks in demand and the intermittancy of renewable generation.

Capacity payments could, in theory, be available to any power source which can be guarenteed however gas plants are expected to be the major beneficiary.

An analysis by Energydesk suggests that gas and coal power plants could receive over £100m in support to provide standby capacity each year - depending on the level at which the government sets capacity payments. 

Shell and EDF

Centrica is not the only firm with secondees at the department whose parent firms may benefit from changes to UK energy policy.

Shell, a gas producer and supplier of Qatari gas to the UK, has two active secondments, including a policy advisor on energy security, for whom DECC make ‘a contribution’ towards salary costs.

The latest batch of FOI’s also give further details on previous secondments including two by French state-owned nuclear giant EDF, which recently signed a deal with the department to build a new nuclear reactor in Hinkley Point.

Big six provider RWE npower also had a one year secondment for a staff member from their renewables division.

A spokeswoman for Decc told The Guardian: "Secondees bring with them knowledge and expertise which are vital to helping Decc do its job effectively. Decc ensures that any secondee is bound by the professional codes of practice relevant to their industry or services provided."

It is not the first time DECC has admitted to providing secondments to big six energy providers and others in the energy industry.

Last year The Guardian reported that almost a dozen employees from companies including the energy giants British Gas and npower are working at the department.

The latest details, however, show the jobs secondees do for the department are often extremely similar to their roles in their host organisations and come as the government has promised to ‘take on’ the energy companies.

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