Climate expert to lead DESNZ clean energy 'mission control'

Plus, department names former senior civil servant as junior minister
Chris Stark. Photo: Gary Doak/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

10 Jul 2024

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has appointed climate change expert Chris Stark to lead a new clean power "mission control" centre.

Mission Control for Clean Power 2030 will be a “a one-stop shop, bringing together a top team of industry experts and officials to troubleshoot, negotiate and clear the way for energy projects”, according to the department. 

The control centre is part of Labour’s plan to make Britain a clean energy “superpower” by the end of this decade, one of the party’s five missions to “rebuild Britain”.

Stark was chief executive of the Climate Change Committee until April this year, stepping down after six years leading the government’s independent climate watchdog.

Before that, he was director of energy and climate change in the Scottish Government. He has also held a variety of roles in UK government departments, including the Treasury and the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. CSW understands he has been appointed without competition as an exception to the normal recruitment rules due to his experience as long-time public servant and civil servant. 

The mission control centre will be “the first of its kind in government, with a relentless focus on accelerating the transition away from volatile fossil fuel markets to clean, homegrown power, to boost Britain’s energy independence and cut bills for the British people,” according to DESNZ. It will be a small team of expert in areas such as data science, engineering and project delivery, who are currently being recruited.

It will work with energy companies and organisations including the regulator Ofgem, the National Grid, and the Electricity System Operator to remove obstacles and identify and resolve issues as they arise. It will aim to speed up the connection of new power infrastructure to the grid and provide cleaner, cheaper power to homes and businesses. 

Energy secretary Ed Miliband has also asked the Electricity System Operator to provide advice on the best route to achieve the 2030 ambition.

"This new Mission Control centre, benefitting from the expertise and experience of Chris Stark’s leadership – and bringing together the brightest and best in the national interest – will have a laser-like focus on delivering our mission of clean power by 2030," Miliband said. 

Miliband said "years of underinvestment" has caused energy insecurity, "with working people paying the price through their energy bills and a cost-of-living crisis".

"That cannot happen again," he added. 

Stark, who will report directly to DESNZ second perm sec Clive Maxwell, said tackling the climate crisis and accelerating the transition to clean power is “the country’s biggest challenge, and its greatest opportunity”.

“By taking action now, we can put the UK at the forefront of the global race to net zero – driving down our carbon emissions but also cutting bills for households,” he added. “It is a privilege to head up this work alongside the country’s top energy experts who will make this mission a reality.”

Former senior civil servants becomes DESNZ minister

Joining Stark at the department will be a new minister who is a former senior civil servant. 

Miatta Fahnbulleh, one of several ex-officials in the 2024 intake of MPs, has been named as a junior minister in DESNZ.

Fahnbulleh’s time in the civil service included spells working in the PM’s Strategy Unit under Gordon Brown and heading the coalition government’s Cities Policy Unit.

She was also later a policy adviser to Miliband, her now-boss, who was leader of the opposition at the time.

Fahnbulleh spent the last seven years at the IPPR think tank, where she was director of policy and research. She was also previously chief executive of the left-wing think tank the New Economics Foundation.

The appointment was welcomed by former Tory business and energy secretary Greg Clark, who described Fahnbulleh as a "huge asset to the government".

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