Conservative Party pledges to scale back green levies and fast-track nuclear

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has unveiled the Conservative Party’s General Election Manifesto, containing pledges to fast-track next-generation nuclear and to put decisions on the next phase of the UK’s net-zero transition to a Parliamentary vote.

Conservative Party pledges to scale back green levies and fast-track nuclear

The Tories are the second major party to publish a full manifesto ahead of the 4 July election, after the Liberal Democrats set out their on Monday (10 June).

While the headline focus is on a national insurance cut, and mandatory national service for 18-year-olds is among the other headline-grabbing inclusions in the manifesto, there are some important points for those in the green economy to consider.

The 80-page document confirms that a Conservative Government would retain the UK’s 2050 net-zero target but reiterates Sunak’s desire for a “pragmatic” decarbonisation pathway which does not place additional costs on households.

To that end, there is a commitment to reduce green levies on energy bills over the course of the next Parliament, against a 2023 baseline. The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit estimates that such levies account for 11% of a typical dual-fuel bill, compared to 40-75% being attributable to wholesale energy costs.

The manifesto also pledges a new energy efficiency voucher scheme open to every household in England. This would provide grant funding towards insulation, other energy efficiency improvements and solar panels. There is no stated budget nor launch date for the scheme.

On the Government’s overall strategic approach to net-zero, the Conservatives would guarantee a vote in the next Parliament on how to approach the “next stage of the pathway”. It is unclear whether this is in reference to the next Parliament, or to the 2038-2050 period for which carbon budgets do not yet exist.

Ministers would also give the Climate Change Committee more of an explicit mandate to consider the costs which its recommendations would incur on households, plus any threats to energy security. The Committee, which provides independent advice to Ministers, is already required to account for the likely impact of decisions on the economy as a whole, particular industrial sectors, social outcomes and energy supplies.

Energy transition

On energy generation, the manifesto also reuses Energy Security and Net-Zero Claire Coutinho’s claim that, forced to choose between energy security and decarbonisation, a Tory administration would select the latter. This is part of its justification for pursuing North Sea oil and gas expansion and pledging to create new gas power stations for peaking.

All gas power stations will need to come offline or be retrofitted with carbon capture by 2035 as part of plans to decarbonise the electricity grid. The manifesto does not confirm a timeline for this, nor how much new gas power capacity would be targeted. There is no mention of energy storage.

The manifesto goes on to reiterate recently-introduced restrictions on solar on agricultural land, changes intended to prevent the ‘clustering’ of solar farms in one area, and a requirement for onshore wind projects to only progress with strong local support.

Sunak’s party has also stated that it will implement most of the recommendations in the Wisner review to cut grid connection waiting times for new energy projects.

There are some new pledges, including a commitment to approve two new fleets of Small Modular Nuclear Reactor projects within the first 100 days of the next Parliament. This would be coupled with changes to processes that would halve the time it takes for new nuclear projects – small or large – to be delivered.

The manifesto also hints at further changes to payments made to energy firms through the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction scheme, with a premium to be paid for those investing in manufacturing in low-income regions. CfD reforms are already in the pipeline to reward energy developers for ‘non-price factors’ such as supporting local manufacturers and investing in community projects.

Manufacturers and energy industry players will doubtless be disappointed to see that the Conservatives have not committed to deliver an industrial strategy as a priority.

Leo Mercer, policy analyst at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: “Compared to the 2019 manifesto this disappointing document shows a lack of ambition and vision, even if the Conservatives have restated their commitment to net-zero by 2050. This manifesto does not provide a credible set of policies that will deliver on either net zero or climate resilience.

“If this manifesto was serious about tackling climate change, kickstarting growth and safeguarding our energy security, it would have included a comprehensive industrial plan that would improve the grid, create green jobs and keep bills down.”

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Politicians pretending to be science and engineering literate.

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