Calls for low-carbon Industrial Strategy mount as Theresa May seeks snap election

A host of industry bodies have called on the Government's forthcoming Industrial Strategy to support business efforts to embrace renewable technologies, on the same day that Prime Minister Theresa May has made a surprise announcement to call a snap general election in June.

In a joint letter to Business Secretary Greg Clark, organisations including the Renewable Energy Association (REA), RenewableUK and the Solar Trade Association (STA) have highlighted how the low-carbon sector can provide significant benefits to the UK economy.

The letter states that “low-carbon sources are now the low-cost energy option – with cost reductions more akin to those seen in electronics than traditional infrastructure”. It comes after the Government closed its consultation on the development of a future Industrial Strategy for the UK yesterday (17 June).

The coalition of organisations, which also includes Scottish Renewables and the Electricity Storage Network, claims that renewable technologies can deliver against the core principles of the Strategy, through innovation, skills and deploying infrastructure “fit for the twenty-first century”.

The letter reads: “Technological advances and competition are demonstrating that a modern, low-carbon energy system offers increasing potential to improve the competitiveness of our economy, while delivering investment and employment across the UK – particularly in regions outside London and the South East.“

The REA’s response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy consultation includes a call for greater Government support for clean technologies such as energy storage, solar panels and energy-from-waste. The association’s new head of EVs told edie this week of an opportunity for the Strategy to bring the automotive and energy industries together to develop a low-carbon vehicle, energy and infrastructure system.

Meanwhile, RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck has underlined the group’s belief that wind and marine energy must be critical aspects of the Industrial Strategy. “These are innovative industries, growing exponentially, bringing economic benefits to all energy consumers, as well as creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions in investment,” Pinchbeck said.

Snap election

The letter arrived hours before the Prime Minister announced a shock decision to call a snap general election on 8 June. In a statement outside Number 10 Downing Street, May justified her election U-turn by claiming it was “the only way to guarantee certainty and security for the years ahead”.

However, the decision casts further doubt over the release of the country’s new Industrial Strategy, along with other key environmental frameworks such as the 25-Year Environment Plan.

A lack of political certainty has proved a major hindrance for investment in the renewables industry, especially in light of persistent delays to the proposed Clean Growth Plan to meet the UK’s carbon targets.

Responding to the PM’s announcement, Pinchbeck said: “Political parties should support a vibrant renewable energy sector if they want to be successful in Government: this is a sector which offers regional economic growth, and an affordable, sustainable, domestic energy supply. And we know that renewable energy is massively popular with voters- three quarters of the public support renewables.”

Solar stagnation

The low-carbon and renewable energy sector is continuing to grow domestically – figures released earlier this month from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that the sector made a £43bn turnover in 2015, with an estimated 234,000 full-time employees working directly in the industry.

The UK has experienced a wave of record-breaking renewable energy figures in recent months, culminating with solar power reportedly reaching an all-time high of 8GW output on 9 April. Last Friday, meanwhile, all coal power stations in the UK were switched off, meaning that coal plants produced no electricity for the grid for the first time in 2017.

But these encouraging signs fail to mask a deep malaise within the solar sector. A recent report from the STA found that, following the reduction in feed-in-tariff (FiT) Government subsidies, the number of UK installations has dropped by 81% compared to 2016 levels. On top of that, businesses that have invested in solar panels to generate energy for their own use, will be affected by business rate rises of up to 800% from this month.

STA chief executive Paul Barwell said: “With policy crunch points clearly hurting solar this spring we urge Government to act now to stabilise the industry.  Solar power led global renewables growth last year and it has an extraordinary future everywhere.

“But solar is being needlessly impeded in the UK by shock taxes, red tape and by a serious failure in the only remaining supportive policy. The UK solar industry risks being left behind while other major economies strengthen their stake in a booming world market.”

We repeat our call on the Government to table the simple secondary legislation needed to stop the extreme and anti-competitive business rate hike for rooftop solar.”

George Ogleby

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