They say a week’s a long time in politics. If that’s true, then we can but wonder how long it’ll feel before Britain’s energy white paper finally sees the light of day.
Originally expected in June, Andrea Leadsom stood before the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee earlier this week to announce that it would now not be released until Q1 2020. For the amount UK politics has changed in recent years, it’s evidently plus ça change at a department now almost synonymous with delays.
Leadsom was, however, in bullish mood on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that the energy sector can now definitely expect to see the whitepaper early next year for it is her that holds the reins these days. Poor Greg Clark. The energy secretary also spoke candidly about the role new and nascent technologies might play in achieving net zero, specifically nuclear and CCUS, consultations on which will feed into the report before it is published.
It would, however, “possibly” be a bit “too optimistic” to include nuclear fusion in those net zero considerations, Leadsom mused in Portcullis House. “Possibly”. Given that the Conservative Party has so far stumped up just £200 million to support a technology that’s widely expected to need investment something in the region of 1,000-times that before it’s commercially viable, I reckon that might be a safe assumption.
And when it comes to investment, Leadsom’s got her own ideas. The only problem is, as others have indeed pointed out already this week, the concept of a national investment bank that supports green infrastructure projects is the kind of concept the Conservatives aren’t all that keen on holding onto centrally.
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What measures the government will eventually take or suggest in that white paper remains to be seen, but you could take some indication from its response to the Committee on Climate Change’s progress report, which was also released this week. That report, which took a tone the watchdog has seldom used before, if at all, told the government in no uncertain terms that it was “time to act”.
The government’s response could therefore be considered slightly underwhelming. After trumpeting some of its key achievements in the year, the report actually goes on to suggest very little actual direction, especially when it comes to further decarbonisation of the power sector.
Recent CfD results are, indeed, an absolute triumph of policy supporting deployment and should be heralded, but not at the extent that they excuse a lack of movement elsewhere. The CCC was clear at the start of summer that if progress is to be made, the lowest-cost renewables technologies must be brought forward.
Yet, when it comes to actually stimulating deployment of mature renewables technologies, the government’s ambition is questionable. “To enable this [subsidy-free renewables] at scale, we will need to examine the steps needed to ensure a level playing field for renewables that are deployable without government support,” the report argues.
But, have no fear, for the Prime Minister here. Having spent the week wrestling with Brexit and, at the time of writing, looking like he might just have salvaged a deal – subject to a parliamentary vote tomorrow (Saturday 19 October) – Johnson also confirmed this week he’s set his sights a little higher for his next trick. No, the Garden Bridge isn’t being resurrected. Boris is going to get his cabinet solving climate change, and he’s going to take the hot seat.
“There is possibly no one more ill-suited to this role than a Prime Minister with a history of climate denial,” said shadow energy secretary Rebecca Long Bailey of Boris Johnson’s appointment as chair of a cabinet committee on climate change. Poor Boris. At least those in the trade were slightly more welcome to see his appointment, even if the Renewable Energy Association did move straight on to reminding him of his ever-increasing to-do list.
From now until the white paper is released – it will certainly coincide with the next Green Great Britain Week, postponed from this fall until Q1 2020 to avoid clashing with Brexit – the government simply must dedicate whichever resource it has spare on ensuring that the document delivers precisely what it should.