Angus MacNeil: Government must reverse ‘restrictive’ energy policies of 2015

EXCLUSIVE: The UK Government must reverse the cumbersome green policy decisions it made last year to enable businesses to benefit from a generation of cost-effective, low-carbon energy technologies, the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) chairman has claimed.

Speaking to edie about his hopes and expectations for the upcoming Parliamentary session, ECC chair Angus MacNeil said he wants the Government to take a more holistic approach to energy investment by providing more stable support for onshore wind and solar.

Industry backing remains strong for these technologies despite controversial subsidy cuts made in May last year, MacNeil said.

“The UK is screaming out for renewables investment and screaming out for the Government to stop viewing itself as a company but actually to govern,” said the Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP. “They have to look again at what they’ve done with onshore wind and solar.

“I think they have to be governed by the cheapest form of renewables, but they also have to recognise the people want to develop in these areas. I think the problem with the 2015 approach was that it created too many barriers to investment for business.

“I think they should go back to enabling the generation of renewable energy where there are resources and where it’s cheap to do so, not to restrict it or pick the winners so much. When we’re talking onshore wind, offshore wind, solar and gas, they need to be less restrictive in their approach and look to reverse what they did in 2015.

“A decision to allow Hinkley to go ahead would be short-sighted when we having experts saying that nuclear might become obsolete when renewables, storage and perhaps gas combine together in the 2030s. Especially given that there are many more areas of the UK prepared to have onshore wind.”

‘Regulatory inertia’

MacNeil is calling upon the newly-formed Department of Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to streamline guidelines to reduce uncertainty across the energy sector. He highlighted the need for lower grid charges in the offshore wind sector to “create a level playing field” and boost the industry’s competitiveness, and suggested the removal of energy storage regulations could “unlock” the potential of smart technologies.

This follows on from research revealing the business case for energy storage is being undermined by uncertainties such as limited revenue streams and grid services contract availability, while the ECC recently recommended that operating systems should be transferred from the National Grid to independent operators in order to mitigate the potential for “conflicts of interest”.

MacNeil added: “There’s a lot of thinking going on regarding storage and the renewables – if they’re working together in unison then something might happen. They’ve got to change regulations around energy storage as well, I think that will start to unlock things quite naturally. There’s a bureaucratic issue that needs to be handled, and I think that will help.

Demand-side response is another area that has suffered from contract length and bond sizes. To ensure that the technology can provide a fix on its own terms is crucial because it can replace the amount of minimum energy required. It’s the best method due to the abundance of energy it produces. I think support from Government in those regulatory areas of energy and demand-side response would start to confirm the landscape at very little cost.

“The only problem is inertia. There was inertia within DECC to do anything with storage. We are still waiting for the framework of plans supposed to be put together by the end of this year to move forward some prospective policies.”

Low-hanging fruit

MacNeil’s call for the adoption of an energy policy that combines a low-carbon mix of renewable technologies and effective energy storage methods echoes the views recently put forward to edie by leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt.

Similarly to Porritt, ECC chair MacNeil believes that Britain’s energy agenda is now in safer hands under new Secretary of State for BEIS, Greg Clarke. For MacNeil however, the absence of a specific low-carbon transport approach in the Government’s new ministerial shake-up remains a matter of concern.

The ECC is currently in the middle of an enquiry into the UK Government’s progress – or apparent lack of it – on its self-imposed targets for meeting heat and transport demands from renewable energy sources. MacNeil warns that the UK faces an uphill battle to reach its 2020 renewable targets across both these sectors.

“I think Jonathon Porritt’s understandings are perhaps quite sensible,” MacNeil said. “The only question we still have is transport. We might be able to take the business and industrial strategy and put them among climate change but the transport department – viewed as slightly problematic in the past – is still problematic from a climate change point of view.

“The targets for heat aren’t too far away but the transport targets are way off. I think they have been regarded as the low-hanging fruit in the Department of Transport. The last UK Government dropped its ambitions in both these sectors to save money as part of the austerity agenda. I think they’ve got to realise that we’ve got one of the worst housing stocks in Europe and they’ve got to invest in infrastructure now to save money in the long-term.”

George Ogleby

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