Queen’s Speech to Parliament: Green groups push Government for ambitious Energy Bill

Several key figures and organisations from across the UK’s green economy are urging the Government to ensure that the forthcoming Energy Bill, confirmed at the State Opening of Parliament, is aligned with net-zero and helps people weather the ongoing energy price crisis.

Queen’s Speech to Parliament: Green groups push Government for ambitious Energy Bill

Image: BBC

Prince Charles read the speech on the Queen’s behalf in Parliament this morning (10 May), with Buckingham Palace stating that the Queen was unable to attend in person due to “episodic mobility issues” and was “reluctant” to designate the task to her son for the first time.

The speech served as the official launch of the 2022 – 2023 Parliamentary session and, as always, it was used to formally outline the Government’s proposed policy and legislation priorities for the coming session.

The Prince of Wales began by stating: “My Lords and members of the House of Commons, Her Majestiy’s Government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families.”

He went on to mention the need to reduce the NHS backlog and for continued support for the people of Ukraine, as well as priorities relating to transport, policing and levelling up. Also mentioned was the National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), with the Prince stating that its priorities will remain the promotion of economic growth and the delivery of net-zero.

As expected, the speech’s main environment-related facet was its mention of the forthcoming Energy Bill. The Prince of Wales said: “Her Majesty’s ministers will bring forward an Energy Bill to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy. This will build on the success of the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year.”

The Bill will be the first of its kind in more than a decade and will outline how, precisely, the UK plans to end unabated fossil-fuelled energy generation by 2035. This commitment was first announced in October 2021.

The Government subsequently produced an Energy Security Strategy in light of the energy price crisis, exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This Strategy set bolder targets for wind, nuclear and hydrogen production and also paves the way for the UK to expand North Sea oil and gas production and to potentially restart fracking. It prompted a mixed reaction from green groups and, from civil society groups, the general consensus was that the Strategy was a missed opportunity to reduce energy bills in the short term by supporting insulation and providing more targeted financial relief.

The Government has maintained that its existing approaches to retrofitting buildings are sufficient and that it is reluctant to set aside more than the £22bn it has already allocated to relieve energy costs for domestic and business customers. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stated that the Treasury will be unlikely to announce additional funding at this moment, with preference given to waiting until more is known about a potential second wave of energy bill increases in autumn. Opposition parties including Labour and the SNP have continued to state that the delivery of an emergency budget would be preferable.

Green economy response

Commenting on the confirmation that the Energy Bill will be set out this Parliamentary session, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Environment Chris Skidmore MP said:  “An ambitious Energy Bill is desperately needed to help decarbonise our electricity grid, get off volatile gas, and prepare the economy for net-zero.

“The next year is going to be crucial for environmental progress, whether it’s COP15 in China on biodiversity, COP27 in Egypt, or back home – dealing with the cost of living by insulating homes and building out renewables.

“As Chair of the Environment APPG, I look forward to working constructively with ministers to ensure our policies are fit for purpose.”

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) head of analysis Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin added: “With the Energy Security Strategy focussing on technologies like nuclear that might play a role but not for years to come, there’s a risk that the Government is distracted trying to pass new legislation to fund those costly options, when it could instead be focussing on steps that will give more immediate help to hard-pressed households struggling with rising energy bills.

“Cheap renewables can be deployed rapidly, and even more so once the Government follows through on its commitment to make simple changes to planning rules in England to align with overwhelming public support for renewables including onshore wind. And with millions more households facing being trapped in fuel poverty for several years, insulation schemes can easily be expanded to cut bills and help reduce our national vulnerability to fossil fuel markets.”

Energy UK’s director of advocacy Dhara Vyas said: “The energy sector has undergone a huge transformation in the decade since the last Energy Bill and has the potential to go much further and faster towards a clean, modern and flexible system – with tangible benefits for customers, our economy and our environment.

“With record energy bills at present, resulting from unprecedented international gas prices, we must seize this opportunity to expand our own sources of domestic, clean energy along with encouraging the widespread adoption of low carbon technologies.

“This country now has a raft of ambitious targets in place and the focus must now be on delivering these. We can only do this with a Bill that enables our sector to do what we need to do now and deliver on the full potential of the future energy system – so that progress isn’t being blocked by outdated legislation and regulations drawn up for a different time.

“A new Energy Bill should create a framework for a low-carbon future. The energy industry is ready to deliver.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “An Energy Security Bill is to be welcomed, but it rings hollow if it fails to provide a retrofit revolution – a mass programme of heat pumps and home insulation, designed to slash household energy bills, reduce energy demand, and cut emissions while we’re at it. We desperately needed the Government to tackle the root cause of our energy and climate security problem, and adopt a fossil fuel treaty to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Ashden’s cities manager Cara Jenkinson said: The Government missed an opportunity today to tackle soaring energy prices that are plunging hard-working families into crisis mode.  What we needed from the government to fix this, was a commitment to launch a funded national retrofit strategy that would turn icy houses into insulated homes, and lower emissions and energy bills at the same time.

“In addition, we wanted to see a reform of the apprenticeship system so that the UK can build a skilled green workforce, ready to take up the thousands of well-paid green jobs that would stem from an ambition national wide retrofit strategy. Today we needed a rallying cry. Instead, we heard a whimper.”

The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “Addressing the energy efficiency of the UK’s built environment and accelerating our transition away from volatile fossil fuels in heating is crucial to support households through the ongoing cost of living crisis. Today’s announcements make some progress in this area, with the welcome intentions to boost consumer protections and trust in new technologies by setting up a market standard and trading scheme for heat pumps, and appointing Ofgem as regulator for heat networks through the new Energy Bill.

“However, it is critical to roll out a comprehensive programme for energy efficiency in parallel, as the quickest way to reduce demand for gas and bills in the short term. Boosting energy efficiency holds the potential not only to reduce bills, but also create jobs across the country as part of the government’s “Levelling Up” agenda. With this in mind we welcome the new measures outlined in today’s speech to introduce business models for carbon capture and storage, transmission and storage infrastructure and hydrogen, which are key in driving down costs and boosting investment in these new low carbon technologies.

“The establishment of the Future System Operator is also a positive step forward, ensuring better coordination and oversight of future grid transmission development needs, which is a vital part of the effective renewable power system we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels. To build upon this, the role of Ofgem in facilitating net-zero delivery must be clarified, with a focus on allowing greater levels of anticipatory investment in transmission infrastructure to build an effective net-zero energy system. It is also crucial that introducing competition to the UK’s onshore electricity measures delivers higher investment and cost savings, and does not lead to delivery delays.”

Green Alliance’s executive director Shaun Spiers said: “It’s good to hear that the Government remains firmly committed to net-zero and a more sustainable environment. The Energy Bill and transport-related bills, levelling up and the NIB will be crucial in that endeavour. It is now essential that rhetorical commitments to the environment are backed up by strong, consistent action.”

WWF’s executive director of advocacy and campaigns Katie White said: “To level up the UK  while levelling down energy bills, we cannot afford for the environment to be an afterthought, but today the UK Government has failed to set out the transformative changes that are needed to address the food and fuel crises, build long-term resilience, deliver on net-zero and restore nature. 

“The gap between this Government’s rhetoric and action is becoming a chasm. Failure to put sustainability at the heart of the new legislative agenda is a betrayal of the promises made just months ago at COP 26, like aligning the UK financial sector with net-zero, undermining our resilience at the very moment when we need to be shoring it up.”  

EY’s UK & Ireland managing partner for sustainability, Rob Doepel, said:“The announcement in today’s Queen’s Speech of a new Energy Bill marks a positive step from the Government in the UK’s transition to net-zero. It presents an opportunity for the UK to move from net-zero pledges, plans and strategies to genuine action.

“For the Bill to make a significant step-change, the long-term solution for both energy security and affordability is to continue to invest in and build renewable energy infrastructure for the UK.  The time to accelerate this investment is now so it’s vitally important that the Bill specifically details measures to bolster efforts to accelerate the energy transition and invest in technologies that can reduce and remove carbon dioxides already in the atmosphere. It’s also important that the Bill includes areas that were omitted from the Energy Security Strategy – namely energy efficiency measures. The government needs to a bold and set an ambitious plan for energy efficiency, with a balance of incentives for business and consumers.”

Eaton’s managing director for the UK and Ireland, Siobhan Meikle, said: “The announcement of the Energy Bill is a positive step forward as the Government looks to deliver on some of the promises laid out in the Energy Security Strategy.

“As the Bill progresses through Parliament, it is crucial that the importance placed on energy storage, outlined in the strategy, continues to be properly acknowledged. Energy security isn’t simply a case of plugging in more UK-based energy sources – it should be about a system-wide approach that makes the best use of all the resources we have. That means making the grid more flexible at the same time as we are diversifying our energy mix and increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewables.  Increasing the amount of storage capacity will be critical to this and so the revised target is a step forward, but for this to happen we need a regulatory regime that incentivises private investment in this vital technology.”

Better Business Act

Last month, the edie team were in Westminster for the first mass business lobby of the UK Parliament since Covid-19 restrictions were fully eased. The event was held to promote the Better Business Act, which would compel businesses to act in the interest of all stakeholders – not just shareholders.

The Better Business Act campaign is backed by more than 1,000 UK businesses and by policymakers from across the political spectrum. It was rallying for today’s speech to include mention of the act. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

The Better Business Act’s campaign director Chris Turner said: “The Queen’s Speech leaves us none the wiser as to what role the Prime Minister wants business to play in helping Britain recover from the pandemic. We needed a feast of ideas but instead, we got a thin gruel.  

“The Prime Minister has used colourful language to describe his views on business before. Today his silence on reform speaks volumes. The Government has missed a real opportunity to make clear it recognises the enormous potential of business to do good. 

“Equally, with urgent problems such as climate change and inequality at the forefront of policy decisions, the world needs business to play its part in protecting people and planet. The Better Business Act is part of the solution and would transform the way businesses act so that every single company takes ownership of its social and environmental impact. We need to update the rule book for directors now so we will continue to pressure the Government over the next legislative term to pass our suggested amendment.”

Other Bills mentioned today include:

  • The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
  • The National Food Strategy
  • The Media Bill
  • The British Bill of Rights
  • The Procurement Bill
  • The Counter-State Threats Bill (reformation of the Official Secrets Act)
  • The Mental Health Bill
  • The Online Safety Bill
  • The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill
  • The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
  • The Railways Bill
  • The High-Speed Rail (Crewe to Manchester) Bill
  • The Financial Services and Market Bill
  • The Data Reform Bill
  • The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
  • The Brexit Freedoms Bill

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie