The Labour Party has sought to steal the Johnson administration’s clothes by putting out its own 5-point strategy to address energy security and the bills crisis.
In advance of this week’s expected government energy strategy, shadow energy secretary Ed Milliband unveiled last week in Manchester Labour’s plan for a ‘national sprint’ towards sustainability in national supply.
Renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear are the package’s core.
Better insulation of 19 million homes up to 2032 at an outlay of £6 billion each year is the Opposition’s ‘low hanging fruit’. According to Milliband, that would cut home bills as much as £400, trimming fuel poverty and reducing gas imports by 15%.
He cited figures from researchers Carbon Brief, who found only 72,000 homes obtained loft or wall insulation in 2021, against over 2.2 million in 2012.
Labour sees insulation and energy efficiency as a fast win, highlighting two recent Conservative-led fiascos in the sector.
The Coalition’s Green Deal crumbled in 2015 under its own complexity, plus high borrowing costs for home owners. Set up in a rush in 2020, the Johnson administration’s Green Homes Grant, was also paper-heavy and achievement-light, both the National Audit Office and a Parliamentary committee found. A panicked Chancellor Rishi Sunak pulled it after only five months with more than 90% of its £1.5 billion budget unspent.
Accelerated growth of wind and solar are Labour’s second pillar. Onshore wind generation needs to double to 30GW by the end of this decade, and Labour will lift the Conservatives’ seven year ban on the technology.
Under pressure in 2015 from the Conservative press and its own backbenchers, David Cameron’s government spiked new turbines on English soil, excluding them from bi-annual CfD auctions.
Offshore, fixed and floating wind needs to double their targets by 2035, Labour adds.
Tripling Britain’s solar base from 14 GW installed now to 40GW by 2030 sees Labour acceding to the repeated demand of industry body Solar Energy UK. Tidal energy must be stepped up too, the former energy & climate change secretary argues.
Labour’s immediate approval of the 3.2 GW Sizewell C nuclear project in Suffolk – currently 20% owned by China’s CGN – will be the package’s most controversial step with some of its sympathisers. But thousands of the GMB union’s half million members work in nuclear, and the union is a big Labour funder. The new plan will also back Rolls Royce’s SMR technology, using adapted power plants from submarines.
In January the Johnson administration announced £ 100 million of funding for the new coastal nuclear plant.
As I have not read Labour’s plan to stop burning fossil fuels by 2050, I hesitate to comment, but if this synopsis is accurate enough, the Labour plan does not appear to mention the huge potential of ocean current flows around the UK which run 24/7 unlike wind and solar. Also the backing of Sizewell C needs to be covered by the caveat that building massive high pressure water cooled and moderated reactors (PWR) are unsafe which is why they have to be built inside massive containment buildings that cost a fortune and a lot of time to build. Whilst the minimal support for the Rolls Royce reactors of 440MW is a start, these reactors are still the old PWR design and are much larger than the generally acceptable maximum size for small modular reactors (SMR) which is 350MW. The UK has the technology to build low pressure nuclear reactors cooled using molten salt or metal, such as those of Moltex Energy a British company that was unable to secure government support to build their first power station in the UK so had to take their design to Canada to build one (I have no financial interest in Moltex) The Moltex design can also consume nuclear waste.
Labour’s “immediate approval” of Sizewell C would be unlawful. The project does not yet have planning consent nor a site licence, nor the necessary permits and anyway no investor would commit without those. And external investors would surely be essential. Nowhere did Labour say it would stump up the whole £20 billion (or even 80% of that if the FT’s report that EDF plan to retain a 20% stake is true).
Correspondent’s notes: On the present government’s attitude to external investment in Sizewell C, see my story from https://theenergyst.com/sizewell-c-kwarteng-finds-100-million-to-lure-investors/ Geographical blip corrected, 16/3, in the body text above. Suffolk, indeed, and not Essex where I currently sit.