Bungled Tory energy polices are putting off investors and threatening the prospect of a ‘golden age’ of clean and affordable energy, the industry’s largest trade association has warned.
Energy UK chief executive, Lawrence Slade, said the government was undermining confidence in the sector by chopping and changing policies. The intervention comes after Theresa May’s last minute decision to put the construction of the Hinkley Point nuclear power station on hold.
Slade told The Independent that there had been 10 changes over the past year which had been detrimental to future investment. Without a reliable plan from the government the UK risks losing investors to friendlier markets, higher energy costs for consumers and an inability to hit climate change targets.
“We have seen quite a lot of changes since the current government came into power an awful long time ago – in May last year. All of this makes investors question just how secure their investment is and make them look at other markets,” Slade said.
“We’ve got this background and then Brexit comes along, which just casts another set of uncertainty into the equation. We need that long-term clear plan [from the government], so that people can actually plan, invest and see a return, and we get a steady build-up of lower carbon technology.”
Slade said his decision to speak out was prompted by the news that the government had compromised £140m of investment, after deciding to cut a renewable energy subsidy this summer with just six weeks notice.
His comments echo the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, which said earlier this year that “sudden and numerous policy announcements” were effecting the UK’s position as a “stable and predictable” country to invest in.
Energy UK’s list of concerning policies included planning law changes which can prevent new wind farms being built, the scrapping of a £1bn carbon-capture project, the phasing out of coal by 2025 and a host of cuts, postponements and early closures to initiatives for renewable and low-carbon energy generation – including the delayed announcement over Hinkley Point.
Britain sits on the “cusp of a golden age in terms of what we can achieve”, said Slade, but without strong leadership from government progress will be impeded on a range of energy supplies.
Unite national officer for energy Kevin Coyne agreed that a diverse range of energy sources are needed, from nuclear to wind and solar. That also includes the vast reserves of UK coal still available, Coyne said.
Despite the cancellation of the carbon capture technology project and the pledge to do away with coal by 2025, Britain will rely on huge amounts of coal for the foreseeable future. This means coal power stations are suffering from a lack of investment – leading to a shortage of energy at peak times.
The situation has led to mini diesel power stations being kept on standby in order to deal with energy shortfalls “at vast expense”, Coyne said. After a series of breakdowns in May the National Grid was forced to pay a massive £1,250 per megawatt-hour – more than 30 times the usual rate for electricity – to one mini-power station.
Instead coal should be brought back into Britain’s future energy strategies, Coyne said. He was also critical of the government’s mishandling of the Hinkley Point construction project, in which Unite has been involved for years.
Coyne said: “The Prime Minister came into office promising large infrastructure projects. Yet she has failed to approve the first one to pass her desk – it was the worst possible decision because the whole industry is completely in the dark about what her intentions are.
“It is just one example of many where the government’s decision making has flip-flopped or just been wrong. The country cannot afford to have its energy security compromised. We need strong leadership that promotes a broad energy mix.”