UK Cautiously Optimistic New Government May Be Good for Renewables

Amid the upheaval of Brexit lies cautious optimism that Theresa May’s new government may hold better times for the UK renewable energy industry. Gone is the hawkish chancellor George Osborne — determinedly pro nuclear and fracking — while former energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd, whose policy lurches over subsidy levels damaged so many green businesses, is now Home Secretary.

So what can we expect from the new chancellor, Philip Hammond, Greg Clark — now in charge of energy — and Theresa May herself? The industry has welcomed Clark as an intelligent, approachable figure, well-suited to his post following previous jobs in which he expressed a commitment to green power.   

The downside — for some — is that climate change has been stripped out of Clark’s job description: energy is now lumped in with business and industrial strategy. 

“Greg Clark is an encouraging appointment — he was a key figure pushing for introduction of the feed-in tariff, and an early supporter of the ‘We Support Solar’ campaign,” Seb Berry, vice chairman of the UK Solar Trade Association, said. “More worryingly, abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) suggests an immediate downgrading of climate change as a front-line issue.” 

However, James Court, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association, sees a potential benefit.  

“In terms of battles with the treasury, I think there’s always been potential for it to become part of a bigger department,” he told Renewable Energy World. “That gives it more clout with cabinet decisions. Clark has written two groundbreaking papers on the low carbon economy and energy security. He’s very interested in things such as smart cities.”

Court hopes that the “very capable and likeable” Clark will have a stronger voice in selling the economics of green power and forge a constructive relationship with Philip Hammond. However, the new chancellor’s stance on energy priorities has yet to be fathomed.

Hammond is said to be “fiscally prudent,” yet noises from May’s new government suggest that she’ll uphold spending on big infrastructure projects, including the wildly expensive new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.     

However, Hammond was encouraging when, as foreign secretary, he visited the United Arab Emirates last October. There, he spoke about investing in a clean energy future, the UAE renewable energy firm Masdar having acquired a stake in two UK offshore wind farms. “We share your vision that decarbonization of the world economy is a great opportunity for innovation, jobs and growth,” Hammond said.

Court sees him as “someone to be welcomed who has said the right things.” adding that Hammond could “always back away from a decision like Hinkley Point…we don’t really know what the additional costs will be post-Brexit.”

As for Theresa May’s take on green power, clues are hard to find. But there is one — from a blog she wrote in 2006 as a member of the opposition. Then, welcoming Labor proposals that made it easier for householders to install solar water heating systems and mini-wind turbines, May declared: “The government could do far more to promote green energy rather than giving unfair subsidies to new nuclear power stations. Conservatives want to …seek a long-term cross-party consensus on sustainable development and climate change — instead of short-term thinking or surrendering to vested interests.”

Time will soon tell if that remains her view.

Lead image credit: Rich Girard | Flickr

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Andrew Mourant is a UK-based freelance journalist whose specialisms include renewable energy, education and the rail industry.

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