Book Review: Electricity Supply – the British Experiment….the intentions were good by David Porter (Mereo Books, ISBN 978-1-86151-385-4)
Catherine Mitchell, 10th March 2015
The book describes David Porter’s career from 1987 to 2012, from when he became involved in the Association of Independent Energy Producers (AIEP), transformed into the Association of Energy Producers (AEP), and finally as he became head of Energy UK. The book provides an insider lobbyist view of the key issues over that time, as well as providing a good overview of the pro’s and con’s of lobbies.
David Porter writes well, has a nice turn of phrase, a good sense of humour and lots of good stories (sadly rather discretely). As a result the book is a very useful historical piece for anyone interested in energy policy in GB – whether it be students, anyone involved in the energy system during this time (as an academic like myself or within the industry or Government) or the interested public.
Three main points came across.
Firstly, this time period roughly coincides with my time working as an academic and my view and recollection of events is, unsurprisingly, rather different from David’s point of view. This is not to undermine the value of his book – he explains very well why it was that his various bodies took the line they did over this period of time. However, someone who wants a fully rounded view of energy policy in GB will need to augment David’s interpretation of events with others.
Secondly, the book clearly illuminates in a step by step way how an organisation, such as the AIEP set up by ‘a bunch of guerrillas’ (p7), can transform into a status quo energy industry backbone, as Energy UK currently is. Within this, there are fascinating details of topics as diverse as MALC, the move from the pool to NETA, and the (non) windfall tax debacle of 2008.
Thirdly, the book does a great job of showing just how political energy is, and how powerful the major energy company interests are. The author vividly describes the political nature of energy policy, and the push and pull of interests. David as an individual comes across as supporting competition and privatisation and, in a perfect world, supporting the standard economic view that the energy system would be best served if energy policy was undertaken by Government ‘setting the high level framework and then leaving the industry to get on with the job’ (p323). Knowing the early bunch of AIEP ‘guerrillas’ as I do I think they probably would have done a pretty good job of energy policy had they been left alone to implement it. But the book also serves to illuminate that those guerrillas would never have been allowed to direct energy policy. Indeed, once Powergen and National Power became members of AIEP in 1992/3, the short lived guerrilla-days were over.
This is a book by a man with a very particular remit at the centre of energy policy for 25 years. As a result, it is a rare and valuable book, and it provides a salutary and interesting tale for anyone who wants to understand GB energy policy.