Energy-security plan dubbed ‘Groundhog Day of reannouncements’

Critics accuse Shapps of recycling old policies and failing to fund new infrastructure and skills
Grant Shapps and prime minister Rishi Sunak at the Atomic Energy Authority's Culham Science Centre yesterday

By Jim Dunton

31 Mar 2023

Plans to accelerate the supply of clean energy and boost the UK’s renewables sector don’t go far enough to meet the government’s ambitions and lack the financial support to scale up green energy production, critics have claimed.

Energy-security secretary Grant Shapps yesterday launched the government’s Powering Up Britain –Energy Security Plan alongside more than a dozen related national policy statements, financial strategies and consultations.

The government has a target of decarbonising the power sector by 2035 as part of its longer term commitment to make the UK a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

Measures in the strategy include progressing two clusters for carbon-capture and storage, “kickstarting” investment in the floating offshore wind industry, backing green hydrogen production projects, and setting up the Great British Nuclear organisation to “ramp up” nuclear power-generation.

Other elements target reforming the planning process to speed up the delivery of new energy infrastructure – including solar power and offshore wind projects – and attract more investment, and boosting the number of electric vehicle charging points.

Shapps also published outgoing government chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance’s “pro-innovation” regulation technologies review for the green industries and the government response to Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review.

Parts of the strategy and its related publications are the result of a High Court ruling last year that found the government’s previously-published plans to decarbonise the economy were not detailed enough to meet obligations contained in the Climate Change Act. 

Launching the plan, Shapps referenced the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy supplies, rather than the High Court case, which was brought by environmental group Client Earth.

“Access to cheap, abundant and reliable energy provides the foundation stone of a thriving economy with our homes and businesses relying on it to deliver our future prosperity,” he said.

“This plan now sets out how we fix this problem in the long term to deliver wholesale UK electricity prices that rank amongst the cheapest in Europe, as we export our green growth expertise to the world.”

Speaking in parliament after the plan was launched, shadow climate and net-zero secretary Ed Miliband said there were “glaring omissions” in the package of measures.

“Although there may have been thousands of pages published this morning, this is not ‘the green day’ that the government promised, but a Groundhog Day of reannouncements, reheated policy and no new investment,” he said.

“The documents are most notable for their glaring omissions: there is no removal of the onshore wind ban that is costing families hundreds of pounds on bills a year. There is no new money for energy efficiency to insulate homes and cut bills, just a reannouncement of a feeble offer made last year.”

Miliband said there was “no proper response” to the US government’s Inflation Reduction Act, which is funnelling US$370bn into clean domestic energy production and energy efficiency measures. 

Miliband added that the “biggest indictment” was in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan document, that indicated the UK was on course to miss a COP26 pledge on quantified emissions savings.

“This may be the fifth energy relaunch in two and a half years, but it is more of the same from this government,” he said. “They can relaunch their policies as many times as they like, but they fail and fail again.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said ministers were “gambling” with technologies that are slow and costly at best – and unproven at worst – in the face of measures such as wide-ranging domestic insulation programmes, unblocking onshore wind and “mandatory” rooftop solar panels.

She said that while carbon capture and storage could have a role for carbon-intensive industry, its “high cost, high life-cycle emissions and appalling record of delivery” meant it should not be used as an excuse for licensing new oil and gas projects.

Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said the Powering Up Britain plan was short on ambition and funding.

“The long overdue launch of Great British Nuclear is welcome, but needs to be backed by proper funding for a nuclear new-build programme that invests in gigawatt-scale plants alongside small modular reactors to be a success,” she said. “Without it, this launch is just a recycling of old announcements.

“Ministers are allowing the UK to fall behind in the global race for green jobs and industries. They are doing too little to address the race to the bottom on costs in the offshore wind industry that is putting clean energy projects at risk.

“We are also yet to see a comprehensive strategy for decarbonising the power sector by 2035, which depends on rapidly accelerating investment in our energy networks.”

Environmental Audit Committee chairman Philip Dunne said the plan contained “promising ideas”.

“We shall be looking carefully at the detail to see whether these new policies have added flesh to the bone on long-term plans to achieve net-zero Britain,” he said.

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