Alok Sharma: Energy White Paper and Heat Strategy coming this Autumn
Following months of delays and amid mounting pressure from businesses and climate advisors alike, the UK Government will publish the Energy White Paper, Heat Strategy and Buildings Strategy alongside the Autumn Statement, Alok Sharma has confirmed.
Speaking at a BEIS Committee hearing late last week, the Secretary of State for BEIS was questioned on the state of key green policy packages which have faced delayed due to December’s general election, Brexit, and, latterly, Covid-19.
After Boris Johnson confirmed that the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) will now be published in the latter half of the year, to give civil servants time to align its measures with the 2050 net-zero targets, Sharma said that several supporting packages would be published this autumn.
These include the Energy White Paper, which Sharma admitted has been “anticipated for some time under several secretaries of state”.
The Energy White Paper was originally due for publication in Summer 2019. It is designed to ensure that all actors involved in the UK’s energy systems, including generators, the ESO, DSOs and end-users, reap the benefits as energy systems shift in line with trends such as electrification and digitisation. As such, its initial delay was put down to the UK legislating for net-zero last June.
The Heat Strategy will also be published in Autumn, Sharma told MPs. The Conservative Government has been told repeatedly by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), as well as groups representing the environment and citizens, that it is failing to decarbonise heat in line with long-term climate goals.
When asked precisely when in Autumn the announcements would be forthcoming, Sharma hinted that publications would be timed to coincide with the Autumn Statement.
“I want to show ambition in publishing these when I say Autumn,” he said.
“I think what’s very important is for us to be coordinated in terms of wider policy announcements that are made.”
Sharma added: “I’m not going to pre-empt what the Chancellor will say at Budget or Spending Review – that would not be wise – but the direction of travel is very clear.
“We’re at this very interesting point in time where you have large corporates as well as civil society, non-state actors and governments coming together and realising that, actually, a green recovery is the way forward… In my role as COP26 president, I have discussions on these particular issues daily with colleagues and can see that this is something gaining real resonance internationally.”
Recovery package loopholes
As the session continued, Sharma was also asked about the Treasury’s £3bn package for energy efficiency and nature, unveiled at last week’s Summer Economic Update.
While measures to accelerate retrofitting in the built environment with a £2bn initiative were broadly welcomed, confusion had arisen due to the fact that the Conservative Party’s manifesto promised £9.2bn for energy efficiency.
Sharma said that the £9.2bn figure was calculated “over the period of the Parliament” and that Ministers had not expected to allocate such a significant portion less than nine months after the general election.
“I hope that fact that we have, in a matter of months since the general election, brought forward £3bn, will be a positive sign…. £2bn of that is for energy efficiency in homes, which we want to ensure is spent as quickly as possible. We’ve been very clear on that.”
A further key facet of the UK’s recovery planning is emergency assistance to business. Surveys have repeatedly shown that the general public would not support condition-free bail-outs for high-emitting firms which had already been claiming subsidies, including Conservative voters. As such, BEIS Committee members asked why some corporates in the road transport and aviation sectors had received packages with either minimal or no green “strings” attached.
Sharma insisted that if BEIS is “going to provide finance in that particular way to any particular company, then, of course, conditions must be put in place”.
He cited the Department’s recent overseeing of a £30m+ loan to Celsa Steel as the “benchmark” by which conditions would be set out. The loan deal included a net-zero “protection” clause.
Loans and grants assigned to airlines without environmental conditions will have had to pass through the Treasury, but their ultimate responsibility lies with the Department for Transport (DfT), Sharma said. EasyJet, for example, received a £600m bailout in April and Parliament’s Transport Committee is currently calling for a string of tax breaks for the aviation sector, with no environmental requirements attached.