DeHavilland Policy Consultant James Wilson has produced an energy round-up from last week’s Conservative party conference.
- The most notable announcement was strategic planning for the national grid, which aims to speed up grid connections and increase grid capacity.
- GB Nuclear soon to be revealing its site strategy.
- Ministers expect the Energy Bill to become law this month.
- Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho set out net zero as a key campaigning tool for the Conservatives ahead of the general election.
Net zero targets:
The defining factor going into the Conservative conference was the Prime Minister’s announced delays to the 2030 net zero targets, as the Conservative party sets out to make net zero a dividing electoral topic. The scrapping of the Energy Efficiency Taskforce also weighed on the minds of industry representatives in attendance.
In her main stage speech and reception appearances, the newly appointed Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho leaned heavily into the political. Her speech served to appease sceptical voters and create clear lines of division between the Conservatives and Labour. She characterised advocates for the 2030 targets as “zealots” and argued that Labour’s pursuit of a faster energy transition was “[playing] politics with our energy security”.
This sentiment was echoed in The Spectator’s “Will the public ever get onboard with net zero” event. Minister for Nuclear and Networks Andrew Bowie appeared to avoid confrontation following Jacob Rees-Mogg’s highly critical speeches on net zero. Sir Jacob condemned the 2030 deadlines as anti-consumer and coercive, while Mr Bowie could only support the Government’s 2050 deadline.
The most insightful event was Bright Blue’s “Energy Secured? The UK’s energy market on the road to net zero” fringe event, which hosted energy leaders, including Energy UK CEO Emma Pinchbeck.
Ms Pinchbeck and other representatives were wholly critical of the delays and queried when the Government would offer a consistent policy framework to guide the industry. A notable request was better guidance on future capital projects and planning permissions. The failed offshore wind auction was a recurring example of the Government failing to listen to industry.
The energy sector, however, welcomed the announcement in the PM’s speech of strategic planning for the National Grid to facilitate future grid connections. Nonetheless, the issue of a lack of policy and clarity was still a sticking point for the energy sector.
Mr Bowie stated the Energy Act will be law by October and that its community energy clause requires amendment in the Lords. He added that the SMR down-selection process for GB Nuclear has completed its first phase and insisted that a siting strategy is coming soon.
Regarding heat pumps and home heating, Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance Lord Callanan offered his thoughts on greening homes. He affirmed his support for better tax incentives, agreeing that making features like tax-deductible heat pumps or offering a stamp duty rebate would be effective. However, murmurs from the audience questioned how genuine these discussions were, given that the Energy Efficiency Taskforce was recently scrapped.
As Labour’s conference kicks off this weekend, we can expect the Opposition to respond to the Conservatives’ laying down of the gauntlet on the issue of net zero. As Parliament sits again on 11 October, we can also look out for the final form the Energy Bill will take.
Undoubtedly, the energy sector will also be looking at how the Prime Minister plans to reform the planning system to get strategic planning for the National Grid off the ground.