Last week’s surprise general election result of a hung parliament has led to increasing concern within the renewables industry that the government’s eagerly anticipated Clean Growth Plan (CGP) could be delayed even further.
The UK took to the polls last Thursday with Theresa May’s Conservative Party expected to secure the increased majority the prime minister sought. However a resurgent Labour Party won a number of key marginal seats and the Conservatives ended up losing ground.
The Tories eventually won 318 seats – some 8 seats short of majority – resulting in only the third UK hung parliament since 1929.
It currently remains in discussions with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over a potential deal, much to the chagrin of environmental groups who have pointed towards the DUP’s climate sceptic stance.
Attention within the renewables community has immediately switched to the fate of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s CGP.
The highly important, but increasingly delayed, piece of legislation is now almost a year overdue. In April climate change minister Nick Hurd said the announcement of the election had placed the CGP “in a holding pattern”, but also revealed it was not yet finished.
BEIS has repeatedly insisted that it was prioritising getting the plan right rather than on the time being taken, and to do so the department was continuing to meet with various stakeholders in the renewables and wider energy sectors.
As a result its timetable has continually slipped. Originally due to be published prior to the end of 2016 – in line with recommendations under the Climate Change Act – BEIS then insisted it would be published by February 2017. This was then adjusted to before Easter, after which ministers began to state that the document would be published “as soon as possible”.
Renewable Energy Association chief executive Nina Skorupska wasted no time this morning in arguing that the CGP must be a priority for whatever government emerges from today’s result.
“The renewable and clean tech industry has been waiting for nearly a year for the release of the Clean Growth Plan and it’s now critical for us that we have a clear commitment and direction, no matter what shade of government,” she said.
However Gareth Miller, director at energy consultancy Cornwall, raised the prospect of energy policy taking a backseat with Brexit negotiations and now domestic political uncertainty needing to be addressed.
Formal Brexit negotiations are scheduled to start in just 10 days and there is limited time for whichever government emerges from this election result to publish new legislation.
Specific dates will be set by the government once it is formed but there will be summer, party conference, November and Christmas recesses to take into account before the end of the year. The prospect of a further general election as a result of this one’s result – possibly as early as October – would add yet another window wherein no legislation could be published.
But while uncertainty remains over the precise publishing date of the CGP, Theresa May has at least looked to provide some stability by quickly confirming much of her cabinet.
Greg Clark is to remain as business, energy and industrial strategy secretary to continue his work on the UK’s industrial strategy however there has been a change in personnel at Defra. Andrea Leadsom has been moved to leader of the House of Commons and Michael Gove, who failed to land an appointment within May’s first cabinet, has replaced her as environment secretary.
The move has sparked consternation from green groups and environmentally-conscious MPs alike given Gove’s previous attitudes towards climate change.
As education secretary he intended to remove climate change matters from the national curriculum and Sir Ed Davey, who regained his Kingston and Surbiton seat having lost it in 2015, has had some choice words for May following his appointment.
Meanwhile Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, said it was hoped that further political and regulatory “tinkering” would not occur.
“In addition – because it is the low cost, economic option – the Government should recognise that we are in the middle of a transformation to a low-carbon, flexible energy system and do everything possible to make that transformation smooth, and ensure that Britain makes the most of the benefits that it will deliver,” she said.