High Street food giants including Tesco, M&S and Morrisons have joined forces with Community Energy England, calling for faster progress by PM Rishi Sunak in greening Britain’s power grid.

Representing over 300 volunteer-led local power generators, CEE shares with the grocers a desire for the premier to back locally delivered energy projects, designed to engage hearts and minds in the nation’s pursuit of Net Zero.

Also on the lobbyists’ Christmas list requesting Whitehall niceness is an overhaul of planning protocols, so that new solar and onshore wind projects can move quicker from laptop to watt-making.

More than four out of every five community energy ventures submitted to planners face amendments, sometimes extensive, research commissioned by grocers The Co-op from analysts Cornwall Insight has found.

The voluntary generators’ representative body rests on the same source for its claim that renewables, now making around 40% of UK electricity, are moving too slowly, and won’t have breached a 60% threshold by 2030.

Not just any grid lobbying appeal. This is an M&S grid lobbying appeal

Sunak’s administration is committed to stripping all carbon from power generation by 2035, as a milestone towards achieving national Net Zero by 2050. To achieve this, the Climate Change Committee recommended in June 2021 that renewables needs to be stepped up to reach over 70% of generation by 2035.

The letter states the need for Whitehall to work with businesses to unlock additional renewable energy generation capacity, including direct funding wind or solar energy farms. The Co-op has signed up for just such a funding strategy.

Shirine Khoury-Haq, the grocers’ chief executive, said: “The energy market is at a crisis point. We need urgent government action to deliver energy security, drive economic growth and move us closer to net zero. The UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels and we need to create more UK renewable energy to green the energy grid.

The Co-op already sources solar energy, Khoury-Haq pointed out. More will follow, as part of a multi-million pound programme to increase the proportion of directly funded renewable energy used by its stores and depots.

“Grid decarbonisation isn’t going fast enough, the Co-op boss complained.  “The government needs to incentivise investment in it and push through planning reforms to allow rapid progress for onshore and offshore developments.”

Tesco CEO Ken Murphy added: “This is a critical time to take action on climate change. The food industry depends on the health of the natural environment and we must work collectively to drive the transformational changes needed to meet the UK’s climate commitments.

“At Tesco, we already use 100% renewable electricity across our own operations, from green certificates, Power Purchase Agreements and on-site generation.

“However, we must incentivise more investment in renewable energy if we are to decarbonise the grid.”

Since 2014 M&S has benefitted from the UK’s biggest single roof-mounted PV array, covering 900,000 square feet atop its Castle Donnington distribution centre in Leicestershire.

Chief executive Stuart Machin said: “The UK has the potential to really lead the way in renewable generation – not doing so would be a missed opportunity. The climate crisis demands urgent action and we want to see the Government responding with the same urgency to remove the barriers across planning, investment and pricing.

For Community Energy England, acting co-chief executive Duncan Law added “The community energy sector harnesses local passion, expertise and money to realise local decarbonisation opportunities at scale”.

“The [ community-controlled ] sector doubled in size every year between 2014 and 2017, even through reductions in government support”, Law went on.

“Recently local climate action, indispensable to achieving net zero, has been thwarted, instead of supported, by government policy.  This must change if we are to succeed in tackling climate change and building energy security for all”, the CEL spokesman concluded.



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